Okay, here we go — do not read any further unless you are happy to be spoiled on the details of John Dickson Carr’s 1939 novel featuring the impossible “no footprints” problem of a man strangled in the middle of a clay tennis court.
Had you asserted back in 2014 that the republication of two forgotten crime novels would lay the foundation for one of the most celebrated series of GAD reissues in modern times, well, people would have laughed. And yet the British Library Crime Classics collection, under the stewardship of Martin Edwards and Rob Davies, is now over 50 books deep and gathering momentum for another exciting year. And it’s a sure sign of the hale condition of the series that, far from simply reissuing books, they’re now branching out into original translations with this collection of overseas tales. In the words of Ira Gershwin, who’s got the last laugh now?
Wow, those seems like arbitrary dates, hey? Well, I am up to Hallowe’en Party in my reading of Christie (mostly in order, too…), and will more than likely read the final four novels she wrote — Passenger to Frankfurt (1970), Nemesis (1971), Elephants Can Remember (1972), and Postern of Fate (1973) — this year, and they’re near-universally agreed to be terrible. So this seems a good point to do some reflecting.
In light of my recent favourable experience with Ellery Queen’s The Chinese Orange Mystery (1934), my thoughts turn to the benefits and pitfalls of reading GAD authors’ novels in chronological order. The old joke is that they had to write them in that order, but is there any real benefit or detriment in reading them so arrayed?
Sure, laugh it up. Just a few short months ago I stated my intention to read the entirety of the output of Manny Lee and/or Frederic Dannay under the Ellery Queen nom de plume, and here I am — some struggles later — jumping ahead to a more warmly-perceived title. I’m not happy about it myself, I much prefer to do these things chronologically, but equally I want to want to read their books again. I’ve loved some, been unaffected by others, and abominated a handful, and as such Queen remains a problem child for me. So here I am, back on the horse in a different town, mixing metaphors with the best of ’em. And the result…?
Discussing a book we’ve both read in preparation for another episode of The Men Who Explain Miracles, Dan made reference to some key event in the narrative that I simply did not remember…and this got me thinking: how much of a novel do you have to recall in order to be able to have an opinion on it? And in a plot-heavy undertaking like GAD, should you be expected to remember more, or less?
I have no specific rule for the order in which I read the books on my TBR, but only in special cases does something immediately jump to the head of the list. The chance to lock horns with French grand pooh-bahs Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac is one such special case: sure, their reputation in the English-speaking world might come from writing the novel that became Alfred Hitckcock’s Vertigo, but for the classic detection and locked room fan there’s plenty of excitement attached to these names through a reputation attained by other ends, too. Separately and together, their titles precede them, and so this is an opportunity to savour.
January, month of rebirth and self-recrimination. For every resolution to improve there must be some frank assessment of what debilitated you in the first place, and so the month can take on a curiously Jekyll-and-Hyde aspect for some. So my Tuesday posts for this month will be a mixture of what is good and bad in my reading, and where better to start than a celebration of the previous 12 months?