In GAD We Trust – Episode 16: Modern Writers in the Golden Age Tradition [w’ Puzzle Doctor @ In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel]

Let’s get the new year off to a happy start by showing some appreciation for contemporary authors who make life difficult for themselves by upholding the traditions of Golden Age detective fiction in their own works. And, if you want to discuss modern detective fiction, few are better-placed than Puzzle Doctor, a.k.a. Steve from In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel.

Precisely what qualifies as “the traditions of Golden Age detective fiction” is, of course, up for some debate, and so betweentimes we also veer into a few side alleys regarding the history and perception of the genre. I can’t think there’s too much here to generate any contestation, but we weren’t trying to: sometimes it’s just nice to show appreciation for people who do a thing you like, and it’s always fun to discuss detective fiction with similarly nerdy, and such well-read, people.

And, if for some reason the idea of modern detective fiction doesn’t appeal to you, we also touch on one of Steve’s passions with a wonderful-sounding mystery by John Rhode. So make a note and get hassling HarperCollins to add it to their Rhode reissues…!

You can listen to the podcast on iTunes here, on Spotify here, or on Stitcher here, or by using the player below. 

Thanks are due of course to Steve for taking part, to Jonny Berliner for the music, to you for being an audience, and to all the authors mentioned herein — and tagged below, if you’re curious ahead of time — for perpetrating a tradition that gives so many of us such pleasure.

More In GAD We Trust in a fortnight, and then — two weeks after that — Brad, Moira, and I will be discussing The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (1926) by Agatha Christie in spoiler-rich detail: that episode is going live on 30th January 2021, so if you want to read the book in advance there’s still plenty of time.

In the meantime, stay safe and well; here’s hoping 2021 gets off to the start you’re looking for (only with better grammar…).

~

All episode of In GAD We Trust can be found on the blog here.

42 thoughts on “In GAD We Trust – Episode 16: Modern Writers in the Golden Age Tradition [w’ Puzzle Doctor @ In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel]

  1. Just to clarify, JJ got this up faster than I thought, so FYI, The Marlow Murder Club is out in a few days time, not a couple of weeks ago! Sorry to get people over excited.

    Many thanks for this JJ, it was loads of fun.

    Liked by 1 person

        • Here it is – might have missed some out…
          Books Mentioned In The Podcast:
          Martin Edwards:
          All The Lonely People
          Gallows Court
          Dolores Gordon-Smith:
          • As If By Magic
          • The Chessman
          Robert Thorogood:
          • The Marlow Murder Club
          Paul Doherty:
          • The Nightingale Gallery
          • A Murder In Thebes
          • The Anger Of God (the book that I mention with loads of subplots but forgot to name)
          Paul Halter:
          • The Demon Of Dartmoor
          • The Seventh Hypothesis
          • The Tiger’s Head (which JJ likes a lot more than me)
          • The White Lady (entertainly flawed)
          • The Picture From The Past
          • The Gold Watch
          • The Night Of The Wolf (Short Stories)
          • The Madman’s Room
          Shin Honkaku Mysteries:
          • The Moai Island Puzzle by Alice Arisugawa
          • The Decagon House Murders by Yukito Ayatsuji
          • Murder In The Crooked House by Soji Shimada
          Anthony Horowitz:
          • Magpie Murders
          • Moonflower Murders
          • The Word Is Murder
          • The Sentence Is Death
          Victoria Dowd:
          • The Smart Woman’s Guide To Murder
          Rob Reef:
          • Stableford On Golf
          Sharna Jackson:
          • High Rise Mystery

          Liked by 2 people

  2. A fun listen and a great way to slow things down after a couple of hectic days. 🙂

    I think I’ve mentioned this on your blog previously, PD, but the reason(s) I have a hard time with historical mysteries is that I find the time before the 1800s absolutely abhorrent. The way people behaved, their traditions and beliefs, the society they lived in, just about everything – I just thoroughly, thoroughly dislike it. And having to sit through that for a mystery that’s hopefully interesting (but possibly not) is the kind of gamble I don’t want to take. I did sit through that TV mini series of Ken Follett’s “The Pillars of the Earth” around ten years ago, and my God what a miserable time those people had.

    It doesn’t help that I’m Swedish and don’t even really have a general idea about English kings and nobility between say William the Conqueror (or really, before him) and Henry VIII, so there’s nothing there to catch my interest either.

    Also, Carr’s historicals have to shoulder a lot of the blame. I kind of like “The Bride of Newgate”, where he manages to conjure up a mystery that’s interesting enough to make me sit through the rest of the novel, and I don’t really mind his lighter middle period historicals (“Witch of Low-Tide” and the one or two others he wrote at about the same time which are set in a later time period), but every time I even think about re-reading “The Devil in Velvet” or “Most Secret” or “The Demoniacs”, I just get a complete blockage in my brain and just can’t be bothered. It doesn’t help that everything Carr admires in a historical man is everything I find deplorable…

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think another difficulty I’ve encountered with some historical novels is the overwhelming amount of history and relative paucity of plot. It’s lovely that authors get excited about their research, but as someone who reads for stuff happening I struggle with a lack of events in favour of detail. The same problem affects those Hobby Mysteries Noah Stewart was so delightfully withering about: someone is a fan of baking and so writes a list of recipes with a loose murder plot woven through from time to time…that’s not quite gonna fly where I’m concerned.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Another great podcast! So many promising recommendations— I’ve got so much to read!!

    You guys did a great job of tackling the important distinction between form and content, core elements and inessentials. Indeed, I find still a tricky question of terminology with the phrase “Golden Age style” (though here it’s merely a matter of semantics): I’m wary of using the phrase “Golden Age style” because to me “style” connotes “stylization,” that is, all the elements that those “next Agatha Christie” writers have in common with her, without sharing her ingenuity of deception and clueing. In other words, “style” to me refers to the paint job, not the engine.

    “In the Golden Age tradition” seems more satisfactory to me (less ambiguous), but even still the reference to the era doesn’t specify which aspect of the Golden Age (plot mechanics, stylization) we’re following of the tradition. I believe I’m like both of you in being most interested in puzzle plot detective fiction— whether set in the Golden Age, before, or after— and I wish there was a term that more unambiguously (and popularly) conveyed that type of work. I feel that countries that haven’t as much a need for that distinction as English-speaking ones do ironically have better terminology for it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, I struggled with the title of this episode precisely for the reasons you mention — there is no single “style” of GAD mystery (something I think a lot of critics of the genre don’t seem to understand…) and the traditions seemed more what we were going for. Essentially, without the title turning into a TED talk, I was going to be unhappy with whatever I called it.

      Maybe we need to come up with a term for what we’re after and see if it gains traction…

      Liked by 1 person

  4. BTW, I think there’s an overlooked third category of readers— which I believe constitutes a substantial percentage of mystery readership. It consists of neither those who actively try to solve the case with the hope of arriving at the correct solution before it is revealed to them, nor those who avoid trying to solve the case and hope to be surprised. Rather, it those readers who earnestly try to solve the case, but still in hope that they will still be surprised. For, they feel that if the author can provide them with a satisfactorily-clued solution that surprises them despite their best efforts to solve the case, the intensity of their pleasure at the revelation will be all the greater (I realize that I’m discussing GAD fiction in terms that resemble a condom ad, but that’s just the way it is). Thus, the process of reading a mystery becomes less like that of playing a game (the analogy that falls down in so many respects), than that of art appreciation.

    Like

    • This is a great point. I have been thinking recently that if puzzle mysteries are a game, then they are a game that most players would prefer to lose!
      And actually, I think the idea of category 3 here is actually just a more accurate depiction of category 1 – I don’t think I’ve encountered a reader who is disappointed when they don’t solve a puzzle mystery book.

      Like

      • I think you’re right regarding category 1/3, though I believe there are people who claim that they would truly rather solve the mystery than be surprised. That doesn’t fit in with my theory of the essential appeal of the genre— that it provides a subconscious sense of validating our existence by simulating our (aspired to) comprehension of universal order and causality. But it is not my place to assume that I know how they feel or why they like what they do.

        As for “losing the game,” it’s a key point, but only one of many important ways in which a detective story is unlike a competitive game. I’ve written about it much more extensively here:

        Like

      • I don’t think I’ve encountered a reader who is disappointed when they don’t solve a puzzle mystery book

        This, I feel, might be the purest distillation of what we’re trying to get at…!

        Like

    • I see this as a Venn diagram, and everyone finds themself somewhere in it at some point. Certain books you want to solve, often as a statement on how hoary and ill-considered they are, and some you sincerely hope are going to utterly bamboozle you because of the sheer joy of the explanation. And then some you actively try to avoid solving because the nature of the plot they’re using is familiar, but it’s such a great read that you just want to engage with it as intended– see my recent comments on Richard Austin Freeman.

      Does anyone go into every mystery with the exact same intent with regards solving it? I now I don’t. That strikes me as akin to someone eating every meal in their life with the sole purpose of reflecting on the consistency of the vegetables…surely, sometimes, the flavours are just delightful and you enjoy it for what it is?

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Thanks for the podcast, JJ (and Puzzle Doctor) – it’s a topic that matters to many of us who frequent both of your blogs. ☺️ I enjoyed the discussion immensely, and was glad that so many titles were dropped in the course of the podcast.

    My growing realisation is that the specific puzzle-oriented, clue-obscuring aspect of the Golden Age mystery tradition is best preserved in contemporary fiction by the Japanese shin-honkaku authors, and the Chinese writers influenced by them. This, of course, is not to deny that there are some Western authors operating in a similar vein – Robert Thorogood, Paul Halter, Anthony Horowitz, etc – but more of a perception that there seems to be many more of such authors within the Japanese and Chinese mystery-writing scene. Having embarked on a modern mystery marathon over the past 2 weeks, the most ‘Golden Age’ puzzler was Chan Ho-Kei’s ‘Second Sister’, which was quite obviously inspired by the shin-Honkaku movement – one of the characters in the novel was even blogging about Keigo Higashino.

    P.S. I have a copy of Rob Reef’s golf mystery! Guess whose blog I’ve been following too closely… 😅

    Like

    • Aww, man, I forgot to mention Keigo Higashino. The impossible poisoning in Salvation of a Saint is ingenious, and well within the sort of traditions we’re talking about here.

      And, hey, anyone who has an interest in the traditional-style British mystery of the 1930s will absolutely find much to enjoy in the shin honkaku movement.

      Like

  6. JJ – thanks for another fascinating podcast. I think Puzzle Doctor and you had it right at the outset. For me, GAD style, tradition, etc. (pick your favourite word) triggers the feeling, “I didn’t see that coming”.

    As a teenager, I remember being amazed with the twists in Christie’s A Murder is Announced, After the Funeral, Evil Under the Sun, etc. … where the motive, means and culprit took me by surprise. I continued to look for books that delivered that punch. After I had re-read Christie many times, I dabbled with modern, crime fiction, but too often that came with grisly, sadistic violence, unreliable narrators and/or tortured detectives overshadowing what was ultimately a weak plot, motive, means and/or culprit. Too much modern crime fiction reminds me of a fast food meal (i.e., too much seasoning / too many artificial additives trying to cover up the cheap ingredients and leaving me dis-satisfied and resolving not to eat that again).

    I then discovered brilliant GAD bloggers who introduced me to a world that I never knew existed including Carr, Brand, Penny, Hare, Halter, Quentin/Stagge, Queen, Crofts, Talbot, Flynn, Berrow and so many others. I have been hooked ever since looking for that brilliant twist of motive, means and/or culprit. This now includes more modern examples such as from Gordon-Smith, Doherty, Resnicow, DeAndrea, etc.

    So again, you both summarised what I am seeking in GAD perfectly, “I didn’t see that coming”. This fair-play misdirection not only makes me love a book but offers excellent re-read potential to spot the author’s clever clewing as it happens.

    Like

    • The reread potential of a book in this genre is,I think, a hugely important element of enjoying a mystery.

      Before I started this blog, I wondered if there would ever be the need to reread any of the mystery books I had collected, and it was in fact the spoiler-heavy look at The Peacock Feather Murders I did with Steve that inspired me to pick something up again for a second look. And, the more I reread, the more I lament the amount of unread stuff that will prevent me rereading more, because there’s always something to change your opinion or perspective on what you read, possibly years before, the first time.

      Sometimes that’s simply you as a person, but there are occasions — the forthcoming discussion about Roger Ackroyd, say — where a second look is the perfect opportunity to realise just how damn well some stuff if constructed. Curses, that I’ll have to spot this first time around most of the time from now on…!

      Like

      • In a sense, I never even think about the reread aspect of the genre because, although I often do reread GAD works, I feel it is a genre which in itself entails a reread in its initial read! That is, even if we don’t turn pages back, we are asked in a whodunit denouement to revisit past events with a new mindset. Thus, I see actual rereading as merely an extension of this process which is inherent in a single read.

        Like

        • This is an excellently-made point: the rereading is part of that initial reassessment once the pieces start to fall into place — “Oh, now I see it….”

          We need an expression for that…

          Like

  7. Another enjoyable episode, Jim.
    Shin Honkaku is keeping classic detective fiction alive. I think there are more GAD tradition writers in Japan than in the rest of the world combined. We need to start writing hard in order to fulfill Tomcat’s dream of a new golden age! All fourteen of us!

    After reading the comments I started to think about what kind of mystery reader I am, because I DO want to lose the game, but only if the author’s solution is better than mine. There are a lot of novels in which the denouement surprised me in a bad way, for instance, The Problem of the Wire Cage. I was THIS close of rewriting the last two or three chapters and then glueing them over the real ones =P
    When I was reading Christie’s After The Funeral, I got the idea for an ending so freaking mental, if it wasn’t Christie’s solution, I’d end up writing a novel just for using it. Well, it was Chritie’s ending and I was extremely happy because it was great.
    Of course, thinking a better ending than the author himself is the worst kind of disappointment we can encounter in a GAD novel…
    If you think there’s something worse than that, let me know! We can make a list about GAD disappointments and everything =P

    BTW, I agree about Salvation of a Saint. Now that’s a clever trick!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey, an alternative explanation for the murder in Wire Cage is — and I speak for everyone alive when I say this — a fascinating prospect that the world needs to see realised. If I coe up with a better reason for a vanishing toyshop than Edmund Crispin, would that induce you to write your solution into a novel or short story at some point?

      Like

      • I might write it for free later on, because it’s not only a murder inside a tennis court (ideas can’t be copyrighted), it takes into consideration every character and clue Carr dropped.
        Also, after the EQMM rejection, I stopped writing short stories for good. I could return for the mystery bloggers and friends anthology you guys might end up making (?).
        Jokes aside, I’m up to something… I’ll let you know in due time.

        Like

        • I wonder how many fans out there have a great story in them. It’s an enticing prospect.

          Good luck with whatever you’re up to; I shall look forward to news in due course 🙂

          Like

  8. Great episode. I’ve been caught out by modern crime fiction a few times. Last year I found over hyped books were not as good as I had hoped they would be. Victoria’s book though was a much needed exception to this rule. It was interesting that you look at Shin Honkaku. I was intrigued by this area, when I first started blogging and gave The Decagon House Murders a go, but I did find it rather dry in its writing style. Some others that have been mentioned have also seemed a bit more violent. It would be nice to try more but I guess I am a little gun-shy. However, to continue my non-UK/USA crime writing I recently picked up a copy of The Forest Lake Mystery by Palle Rosenkrantz. Hopefully that will be good.

    Like

    • I’d suggest that there’s an element of violence to the shin honkaku that one has to sort of accept — even the honkkau stuff, in fairness, with the likes of ‘The Monster of the Lighthouse’ and ‘The Ginza Ghost’ by Keikichi Osaka. However, if you did want to try more the Osaka collection might not be a bad punt — The Moai Island Puzzle might be a little dry for you, and the Osaka shorts are, y’know, short and so difficult to get too bogged down in.

      Or there’s always ‘The Spider’ by Koga Saburo — ooh, and ‘The Cold Night’s Clearing’ by Osaka, I believe — in the BL Foreign Bodies collection…

      Like

  9. It’ll be interesting to discover the wrinkles these authors bring to the formula. I’m especially fascinated with the idea of character development within detective fiction. It was discussed a bit in the episode about the golden age’s general preference of plot over character. I wonder if any of the other authors feel it’s impossible to capture a modern audience without developing character arcs or making characters intensely relatable.

    Terrific show, as always.

    Like

    • What strikes me about character arcs — and bear in mind that I’m not an author — is that unless you’re Steven Erikson or Brandon Sanderson and writing these huuuuge Epic Fantasy tomes, it’s generally accepted that the books can be read in any order (indeed, from a sales perspective that’s just good sense — someone might be intrigued by your hardback of Book 7 and not want to read six books to understand it all first). So, in order to be satisfying, each book then needs an arc inside the bigger, longer, book-to-book arc.

      The image this brings to mind is of a frog hopping across a pond going from leaf to leaf: each book is a hop from one leaf to the next, and the long-game character arc is the journey from one side of the water to the other. Inside of the bigger journey, we can appreciate what each hop represents — it gets the frog further across the pond — and this makes sense because we understand the bigger arc of “crossing the pond” and so we can intuit backwards and go “Ah, well, in order to hop from leaf 7 to leaf 8, I know there were six previous leaves that had to be hopped over”.

      The analogy breaks down in that each of those “book-hops” is, however, the exact same arc time after time, and you can understand them because you know what they involved. I guess in a series each set of challenges must be different…but I get exhausted just thinking about that.

      I have no idea where I’m going with this.

      Like

  10. Right that’s it – I’m not listening to this podcast again. All you do is make me keep adding books to my literal/virtual “to read” shelf. I’m going to have to stop reading blogs as well and concentrate on actually getting through some recommended books!
    Seriously though, another great listen – fascinating stuff. Thank you so much. My starting point with this podcast was “modern authors – pah! – won’t be interested in any of them.” Didn’t work out that way! I will definitely be trying some Paul Halter as a minimum – sounds really intriguing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Halter is the gateway drug; then Horowitz, then honkaku. By the time you’re out of the H’s you’re already an addict…I look forward to welcoming you to the club!

      Liked by 1 person

        • Wonderful! There’s so much more in Halter’s translated works to love if Demon landed well for you. Look forward to seeing what you thin of him in due course — whether you write up this one or another.

          Liked by 1 person

          • I feel as though I’ve opened a box of chocolates and had one and it was marvellous. The temptation is to gorge the lot but I am going to resist that urge and savour them over a period of time, difficult though that may be.
            The chocolates are definitely not poisoned by the way! 🙂

            Like

            • Well, there are 18 Halters in translation at present, plus all the other joys that Locked Room International have brought out…so you’re unlikely to run out any time soon 🙂

              Liked by 1 person

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