Genre is essentially the formalisation of deja vu. Those of us who return to — or avoid — particular genres do so because of the essential ingredients that recur there, whether through implicit rules or otherwise.
Here we go again, with the usual warnings: this post discusses in spoiler-heavy detail elements of the plot of Mr. Priestley’s Problem, a.k.a. The Amateur Crime (1927) by Anthony Berkeley, also published under the name of A.B. Cox.
Noah Stewart, one of the most knowledgable people currently blogging on the subject of GAD, once said that Romance and Detection are the two genres wherein the ending is never in doubt before you’ve even read the first page (I’m paraphrasing, of course — Noah would never put anything that pompously).
Just as movie studios have become increasingly ridiculous in laying claim to release dates far enough in advance for you to plan your retirement party around them, so am I now going to lay out two upcoming events that seem waaaaaaay too far off to be talking about just yet. But, well, I’ve started now…
If you’ve been paying attention, especially to my comments left both here and elsewhere, you’ll be aware that my typing is rather famously variable. 90% of the time I’m good, but that other 10% — man, some errors there are. Writing something recently, I made reference to the novel Five Little Pugs by Agatha Christie and then — catching myself in time to correct it — I had a thought…
Slightly belatedly, here are my thoughts on the companion piece to ‘The Scoop’ (1931), another portmanteau mystery written for radio by some of the luminaries of the Golden Age. This time around, Hugh Walpole sets the problem of a dead body found in your typical Stage 3 suburban household, and Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Anthony Berkeley, E.C. Bentley, and Ronald Knox contribute to its unpicking.
Most fans of Golden Age detective fiction (GAD) will be aware of the portmanteau novel The Floating Admiral (1931) in which many luminaries of the form each contributed a chapter in turn to a murder mystery plot (pity poor Anthony Berkeley, who had to unravel all the clues and events to provide a coherent solution in the final chapter). I’m imagining that slightly — but only slightly — fewer of you will be aware of the precursors to this novel written in the preceding year, where the same sort of approach was taken for two mysteries to be broadcast on radio.