I will be exhibiting along with Millie Mack, author of the Faraday mysteries, at the Kensington, Maryland, Day of the Book on April 24. This is a delightful outdoor festival on the town’s main street which is closed to traffic for the event.
The Detection Club and the Golden Age
Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, a London pub, was supposedly the haunt of Samuel Johnson, James Boswell, Oliver Goldsmith, and other literati of the late 18th century. The Algonquin Round Table in New York City included Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley, Alexander Woollcott, Robert Sherwood and others who met regularly for lunch in the restaurant of the Algonquin Hotel. I would love to find such a regular gathering of mystery writers like, say, the Detection Club of the 30s and 40s.
The Golden Age of Murder by Martin Edwards, author of the Lake District mysteries and a commentator on detective fiction, details the history of this elite club of outstanding mystery writers of the 30s and 40s, “the golden age” of detective fiction. Members included Dorothy L. Sayers, Agatha Christie, Anthony Berkeley, Julian Symons, Simon Brett, John Dickson Carr, and many others. Edwards’ book lists the members and the year they were elected to the club. The club’s first president was G.K. Chesterton. The last members to join the club were Michael Innes, Michael Gilbert, and Douglas G. Browne, elected in 1949.
This is a delightful book, full of interesting tidbits about the lives and personalities of the club members and guests. It opens with the impressions by Ngaio Marsh, a guest for the evening, of a meeting in 1937. The evening began with a banquet in an opulent dining room. After the meal, everyone rose and the party went to another room. There, the ritual began, with lights out, then a door opens and the Orator enters holding a taper. The rest of the ceremony involves a grinning skull and lethal weapons. For this meeting, an oath was administered to a burly man in his sixties who had been elected to preside over the club affairs. He pledged to honor the rules of the game they played:
“To do and detect all crimes by fair and reasonable means; to conceal no vital clues from the reader; to honor the King’s English…and to observe the oath of secrecy in all matters communicated to me within the brotherhood of the Club.”
Lengthy chapters describe the lives and foibles of Dorothy L. Sayers, Anthony Berkeley, Agatha Christie, Douglas and Margaret Cole, and John Dickson Carr.According to Edwards’ account, Dorothy L. Sayers spent her life hiding the fact that she’d had an illegitimate child. Cynical Anthony Berkeley, was witty and charming but loved to confound people’s expections. Agatha Christie was pleasant and likable but her thoughts were hidden.
Edwards also discusses the detective fiction of the time and the influence of politics and two world wars on the novels.