Monday, May 25, 2015

1930s Detective Fiction: October 8 Challenge Square #3

Here comes a third entry in my friend Noah's October 8 Challenge. Noah is a Golden Age Detection (GAD) aficionado and one of my Vintage Mystery Challengers and he's put together a Bingo-style Golden Age mystery essay challenge of his own. I'm still not entirely sure that I'm going to meet my goal of one Bingo. Especially since it looks like I'm hopping around the board rather than making a straight line. is looking a bit more promising. AND Noah has dangled a possible prize in front of me that makes me all the more eager to fill in more squares.

Today's entry is a round-up of detective fiction from the 1930s. So far this year, I've read five novels from that decade: The Case of the Painted Girl by Frank King (1931); The Case of Colonel Marchand by E. C. R. Lorac (1933); The Murder of Sir Edmund by John Dickson Carr (1936); Brighton Rock by Graham Greene (1938) and The Smiler with the Knife by Nicholas Blake (1939). And what these books tell me is that there definitely wasn't just one kind of detective novel to be had at this time.

The Case of the Painted Girl and The Smiler with Knife are the two most closely related. Each of these novels are very thriller-esque and have a bit of the old serials that used to play at the theaters before the feature film. Just when you think the heroes in the the first
have discovered an answer and are getting close to capturing the criminals, up pops another little mystery and they're off on another adventure. And just when you think the heroine in the second has escaped the bad guys once and for all, up they pop again to give chase. Both novels are great fun and require little detective work on the part of the reader. All that's necessary is a sense of adventure and a willingness to sit back and enjoy the ride.
The Case of Colonel Marchand is novel in the classic mystery tradition. Lorac (aka Edith Caroline Rivett) makes good use of a standard mystery trope and pulls it off with aplomb and fair play. She displays the clues for the reader and, really, as a long-time reader of Golden Age mysteries, I'm well enough acquainted with the customs of the times that I should have recognized the primary clues paraded under my nose. But I didn't--and that makes it all the more fun. It is a nicely plotted, fairly clued, highly recommended entry in Lorac's mystery offerings.

The last two novels are definitely something a little different. Brighton Rock has a definite edge--no comfy village mystery, no quirky amateur detective, no adventurous cloak and dagger spy thriller. It is obvious why it is a classic in the field. It provides terrific snapshot of the pop culture of the day and shows the reader the wicked underbelly of Brighton and the racetrack nearby. But an enjoyable book it is not. It is bleak and there are few appealing characters. Even Ida, whom we feel that we must root for, is a bit frightening in her single-minded quest. Yes, we do want to see Hale's killer brought to justice, but the advancement of justice is such an unrelenting process. By the end of the book, I felt ground down by the weight of Ida's quest and burdened with Pinkie's guilt and horrible treatment of everyone he comes in contact with--from his gang members to Rose, the girl who loves him. It is novel that crime aficionados really should read to understand its place in history of the genre, but it's not going to be everyone's cup of tea.

And Carr's The Murder of Sir Edmund Godfrey is an early example of that field which has lately grown to have a wide following and numerous practitioners--the historical mystery. In Carr's case, the work is heavy on history and not quite as fictionalized as most modern historical mysteries. The book tells the very real story of the murder of a high-profile, well-known London magistrate named Sir Edmund Godrey in 1678. Carr examines the historical evidence and the theories of various historians and other interested parties to weave a fictionalized account of the crime. It is a superbly researched book and he not only gives us what he believes to be the solution to the ultimate questions--Who killed Sir Edmund Godfrey and Why--but he also supplies the reader with eleven other possible solutions complete with historical details that might lead one to at least consider them if not actually believe them. The historical detail accurately brings to life a bawdy, brutal time period full of plots and counter-plots.

So, no matter what kind of detective novel you like--adventure, thriller, classic detective puzzle, historical...or a peek at the realistic (for me, that reads as "bleak") novels yet to come--the thirties would seem to have you covered. And, of course, there are other varieties that I haven't even touched this year.

1 comment:

neer said...

I am enjoying these posts.