#207: Five GAD Collaborations That Would Have Been Awesome


I’ve read a lot of comics in my time, I spend many hours online enthusiastically contributing to discussions about a moderately obscure area of popular culture — hell, I even wear glasses.  I must, therefore, be a nerd.  I mean, sure, I don’t own a single t-shirt emblazoned with some hilarious-but-obscure quote or image, but that’s mainly because the kinds of things I’d put on a t-shirt — “Hairy Aaron!” or, say, a decal of Gideon Fell above the legend Don’t irritate a man who knows 142 ways to kill you without being the same room — no-one else wants on a t-shirt and so they’re not available to buy.

Where was I?  Collaborations.  What’s being a nerd got to do with collaborations?  Well, it should be obvious, but I’m not going to spell it out for you because between that paragraph and this one I mapped out 17 t-shirt designs too nerdy for mainstream society and I’ve lost my thread.   Essentially, how about if two authors whose strengths countered each others’ weaknesses had joined forces and written a book together? The potential seems endless, so I got to thinking about it.

Thus, here are five pair-ups from classics GAD authors that would have been great had they happened; let’s all be jealous of the alternative timeline where they did…

1. Edmund Crispin and Dorothy L. Sayers


Crispin and Sayers both were astoundingly erudite and informed people in their daily lives; both were Modern Languages graduates from Oxford University and their novels overflow with allusions to the classics, poetry, and music in its many forms, with Sayers in particular pushing the bounds of what was permissible in detective fiction.  Both worked against unusual backgrounds to inform their milieu — campanology, politics, amateur dramatics, academic rivalries — and both had the ability to spin an unlikely setting into the most convoluted of plots.  A pair-up between them would have hopefully seen Crispin’s levity raise Sayers’ lumpen pomposity, and Sayers’ rigid, deliberate structures rein in Crispin’s unfettered and unfiltered enthusiasm.

2. Christianna Brand and Freeman Wills Crofts


Brand’s gift, I’m coming to appreciate, is in her lightness and the easy way she pushes and pushes at a plot until it breaks, only to show that it then can’t be put back together from what remains and so must be broken anew.  Crofts delighted in obsession over every single detail and composing a picture that eventually strait-jacketed everyone until their positions were fixed by sheer force of inevitability.  Brand would lift Crofts out of his drudgery and spin his alibi problems in four different ways at once, where Crofts would give Brand a greater sense of weight behind her plot and stop the whole thing flying away from too many ideas being thrown overboard in that final race to hoodwink you again and again.  The result would be deliberate, dense, swift, and have a kick so hard that you wouldn’t be able to sit down for a week afterwards.

3. Anthony Berkeley and Leo Bruce


Two fine farceurs who worked so hard to confront the confines of the mystery novel from the off, it can’t be denied that Bruce was perhaps over-subtle — often stopping at a single inverted hook to sell his ploys — and Berkeley became, if anything, too obtuse in his desire to bamboozle us again and again (see: The Second Shot (1930), which both is as brilliant and as unfairly played as it gets).  Bruce would run narrative rings around us while Berkeley tossed in grenade after grenade to mess up the ground under his feet, and they’d give us an inverted mystery with unreliable sleuths, unreliable narrators, the body parts of convention strewn asunder, and three murders that weren’t committed and a fourth that goes unnoticed.  Aaah, dammit, I really wish this one had happened…

4. G.K. Chesterton and Gladys Mitchell


Mitchell for all her flaws, and there are many of them, was able to construct some brilliant set-ups that challenged the conventions of the form, and resolved a few of them in a manner that added genuine new content to the genre; her problem came in the cod psychology by which Beatrice Bradley would cobble together what Mitchell had written and somehow come out with the solution Mitchell had intended in contravention of all common sense and the accrued human experience to that stage of history.  Give her Chesterton’s deep, abiding love of human frailty and his keen appreciation of actual psychology (‘The Man in the Passage’, ‘The Mistake in the Machine’, etc) and — while I’m not sure I’d be able to tolerate it — the resulting story would start unusually, build in ever-more unusual directions, and then resolve itself in a way that both made sense and relied on how actual people actually behave.

5. Norman Berrow and Hake Talbot


Berrow has an undeniable talent with set-up, atmosphere, character, dovetailing of motivation and action, levity, complexity, misdirection, and clewing.  Talbot has most of this plus the ability to resolve his impossibilities in a way that is intelligent, fairly-clewed, and often original.  Put these heads together and just think of the dark, whirling impossibilities that await: it’s true that Talbot’s output was relatively small and that Berrow is reasonably new to me still, but there’s so much overlap in what they do.  Berrow’s superbly rich plotting brain would give Talbot something to hang his impossibilities on, and he would breathe life into Talbot’s somewhat moribund characters; Talbot would then sew it up with flourish after flourish, and everyone would win.  Everyone, I tell you.


We were lucky enough to get some collaborations here in this version of reality — The Floating Admiral (1931), Ask a Policeman (1933), Drop to His Death/Fatal Descent (1939), etc — but what do you think of my team-ups?  And, additionally, answer me this: who would go well with Ellery Queen?  I struggled with that for ages, but then figured I hadn’t read enough Queen to really offer an opinion; all thoughts, therefore, welcome…

16 thoughts on “#207: Five GAD Collaborations That Would Have Been Awesome

  1. I think this is a really really cool idea. Definitely agree with your first three collaborations, though part of me wonders what would happen if you combined Berkeley with Sayers. Equally I feel a bit sorry for Brand having to work with Freeman Wills Crofts (“For the last time Freeman, we’re NOT INCLUDING TRAINS!”). I’m less sure about your fourth combo. I feel Mitchell needs someone who can write a better novel-length detective investigation, as invariably that is her weakest part. Not sure Chesterton, whose strengths lay more in short story fiction, would be able to do that. Can’t really comment on your 5th combo as only read one novel by one of the authors. Sure you’re right though! It’s intersting that you haven’t combined Agatha Christie or John Dickson Carr with anyone or are they so great that they can’t mesh with another author’s style? How about Berkeley and Christie? Both love using slights of hand and between them have given crime fiction a lot of outstanding twists and surprises.
    Finally you really should start your own chain of T Shirt Memes.


    • I thought I should try to get through one post without mentioning Carr or Christie; they have quite a lot said about them, let’s be fair, so I thought it was time to let others get a look in.

      I figured Mitchell just needs someone to counter-act her bullshit psychology, and Chesterton is about as perfect on hiuman mores as anyone gets in this era. His lack of long-plotting might be a problem, you’re right, but The Man Who Was Thursday shows the ability to string together something with a higher-than-usual word count and still be decent. And Mitchell might at least stop him describing everything in needless detail for three pages.

      Maybe we should have a GAD t-shirt competition, eh? People submit their nerdy GAD meme and the winner gets their printed up. Who’s with me?!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I’m not so sure about your first three match-ups (I would’ve partnered Crispin with Michael Innes), but wholly approve of your last two. They could work really well.

    Who would go really well with Ellery Queen? I would say Patrick Quentin, but it really depends on what period from EQ’s career your talking about. Quentin seems best fitted for EQ’s Hollywood and Wrightville period, while S.S. van Dine or Rufus King seem to be the best picks for a collaboration with the first incarnation of EQ. However, Clayton Rawson’s Footprints on the Ceiling revealed Merlini inhabits the same universe as both Queen, Philo Vance and Nero Wolfe. So that would’ve been also be a nifty, four-way collaboration. Our genre’s version of the Justice League or The Avengers.

    Personally, I would’ve loved to have seen collaboration between John Dickson Carr and Raymond Chandler. Yes, I know. I’m not a big fan of Chandler, but it is undeniable that the man knew how to write. So imagine him writing a locked room mystery that was plotted by Carr. You know you want it!

    Liked by 3 people

    • Queen, Vance, and Wolfe in the same universe? Goddamn, the mind boggles! Queen and Vance in the same plot would be…a demanding read; made perhaps only more difficult by the addition of Wimey. Indeed, the’d be so m’ny int’restin’ vocal ticks thatta man’d go crazy tryin’a keep up, what.

      Carr and Chandler? They’ve both got strong atmosphere, but I think Chandler’s inability to tell you what’s actually going on would wear JDC down, especially given Chandler’s on-the-hoof plotting that would ruin Carr’s careful schemes. Carr and Hammett, now, that’s a book I’d love to read…

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’d read The Maltese Footprint!

        I think that if you combined Stout and Carr you might get better crafted puzzles with a breezier detective team. Archie Goodwin beats all the Brian Pages around, and a combination of Nero Wolfe and Dr. Fell/Sir Henry might have more interesting hobbies and yet be less dyspeptic . . .

        I’d read The Doorbell Rang . . . But Nobody Could Get In


  3. I’m going to have to make that t-shirt. Now you have my mind spinning to create some classic impossible crime memes, and I’m falling embarrassingly short.

    When I first saw your comic book graphic, I was thinking this post was going to be on an entirely different subject. I have a total fantasy that someone produces a Tintin-style comic book series of classic GAD novels. Hag’s Nook, The Problem of the Green Capsule, The Nine Wrong Answers, Fire Burn, The Red Widow Murders, The Witch of the Low Tide, The Unicorn Murders, The Case of the Constant Suicides, Castle Skull… Each of these have perfect plots for a graphic novel. It would be nice to see illustrations that truly capture the clothing of the time and the grandness of the estates.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Purely based on how alive his books become whenever Fen appears, I have this mental image of Crispin as this overly-ebullient presence that’s just unable to contain itself with the excitement it feels, like he’d be trying to formulate a plot with Sayers and would end up jumping around the room: “There’s a murder, and everybody’s guilty! Except the one who actually did it — he’s disappeared, even though no-one knew he was there at first! And there’s a poem! And three kinds of fish in the wrong water! And buns — lots and lots of currant buns, all with a flying harpsicord and two carpets on a bicycle! Plus, Shakespeare! No — Dryden!!”

      And Sayers is sat in the corner, steadfastly letting him wear out, doing four crosswords in Latin simultaneously while he just bounces around the room like a toddler too full of cake and cartoons, knowing that he’s going to crash soon and they actually be able to get on with some work if she’s patient…

      Liked by 2 people

      • Haha, a great image. I like the sophistication he brings to this ‘offhandedness’ as well, as if it’s all just coming out of his head in the moment, but on reflection is so well composed.

        Currently reading Swan Song (next review) and loving this energy. There are some brilliant scenes in Fen’s car that play to this excitement really well.


        • Swan Song is, in many ways, the perfect Crispin novel: lacks the vibrancy of The Gilded Fly or The Moving Toyshop, and Fen is a little muted overall, but has a classic construction and escalation, and is devoid of the weirdly, manic depressive-like shifts in tone of Holy Disorders or Love Lies Bleeding.

          It’s also his final piece of focussed plotting, as everything that comes after severely lacks in content, design, and interest — a real shame, because he wrote a couple of belters in there, and nearly had one of the short series for the ages on his hands. His short stories fared far better than his later novels, in my opinion.

          Will be very interested to see what you make of it.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Interesting to hear about those later novels, I am yet to get to them having only read Gilded Fly and Toyshop.

            I totally agree with your short stories comments, seriously The Name on the Window has got to be one of my favourite impossible crime stories ever, short or not!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.