We live in a world where the 80 novels and collections of short stories by Agatha Christie are in no doubt — she wrote them, they were published, and they will doubtless be available in perpetuity. This is equally true of the work of John Dickson Carr, though less readily available, or Miles Burton or Christianna Brand; the work is closed, finished, and while an occasional unknown one may appear at some point, it’s reasonable to assume that there’s nothing meaningful to be added to these bibliographies.
The tempting extension to the understanding of there being nothing new forthcoming from these authors is to assume that there’s also nothing new to be written about these authors…until you realise just how little about them as people you really know. Hell, I — after realising at some point in the last ten years that classic era detective fiction is where my heart really lies — am still trying to read enough of the books in the genre to be able to discuss it with any authority, never mind also having a sense of the people involved in the writing of the books. Indeed, in my mind I suppose there’s always been a sort of natural inversion in expectation when it comes to the authors of genuine classics from yesteryear and the prevailing publishing trend of today: now you become famous first (via television, radio, YouTube, etc) as a result of which you get offered a publishing deal, so it stood to reason in my mind that a certain occlusion of writers from the 1930s — who did the writing first and then happened to become famous because of that writing — was inevitable. They wrote in less publicity-minded times, and, as mentioned above, the book of their life and works is now closed.
Well, as it turns out, not so much. Led by the savvy, advertising-honed brain of Dorothy L. Sayers — partly responsible, I learned, for those toucan-themed Guinness adverts — the detective fiction writers of the 1930s actively courted publicity and sought to devise their own sense of branding well before branding of authors was a thing. I’m guilty of not realising this in my analyses of radio serials ‘Behind the Screen’ (1930) and ‘The Scoop’ (1931), two novella-length dramas written as collaborations shortly after the formation of the Detection Club that clearly screamed for people to pay attention to a new formal undertaking of literary gamesmanship — essentially the Marvel Cinematic Universe of its time (though not a consistent universe in the same way, since a novel by one author could contain mentions of novels by other authors, rendering those fiction within the first author’s fictional world…my advice is not to think about this too hard). Sure, a lot of the people involved may have still shied away from the limelight, especially since more than a few of them held secrets close to their hearts that they would have preferred remain undisturbed, but the fact remains that a collegiate undertaking was nevertheless undertaken for the purposes of achieving some sense of notice and interest.
The immediate assumption is that this was a purely pecuniary undertaking — hell, no-one is immune to the charms of wealth, as even G.K. Chesterton, first President of the Detection Club, wrote at one point:
The glitter of guineas is like the glitter of buttercups, the chink of pelf is like the chime of bells, compared with the dreary papers and dead calculations which make the hobby of the modern miser.