On the back of the Reprint of the Year Award run by Kate at CrossExaminingCrime, I thought it might be interesting to see what those of us who submit titles for that undertaking would choose to bring back from the exile of being OOP.Continue reading
For evidence of the restless enthusiasm Freeman Wills Crofts brought to the writing of detective fiction, look no further than the two books he published in 1934. The first — The 12.30 from Croydon, a.k.a. Wilful and Premeditated — was his first inverted mystery, a fairly standard affair in which we are wise to the killer’s reasons, actions, and thoughts from the beginning and which Inspector Joseph French then unpicks quickly in the closing chapters. No doubt Crofts was interested in this new form, but simply repeating a formula which, if we’re honest, gets a little bit long-winded in the closing stages did not appeal. And so changes were wrought for a second stab.
No, I’m not back from hiatus. But if you think I’m going to let today’s reissue of three more Freeman Wills Crofts novels — Sudden Death (1932), Mystery on Southampton Water (1934), and Crime at Guildford (1935) — pass without comment, you’re mad. Plus, in my absence WordPress has foisted a new post-writing setup upon us all, and I need some practice because I hate change. But the world’s a negative enough place right now, so let’s dwell on the exemplary work done by HarperCollins in bringing Crofts back for us to enjoy; some people have been waiting years to be able to afford some of these titles, and it’s a wonderful thing to have them in general circulation.
Today was due to have been the sixth (sixth!) Bodies from the Library conference at the British Library but, for obvious reasons, it’s not. I can’t, alas, give you a whole day of GAD-based discussion, but I can at least fill an hour with someone from that line-up of exceptionally knowledgable people, Tony Medawar.
Today, three previously very hard to find novels by Freeman Wills Crofts are republished by HarperCollins: Death on the Way (1932), The Loss of the ‘Jane Vosper’ (1936), and Man Overboard! (1936). September will add Mystery on Southampton Water (1934), Crime at Guildford (1935), and Sudden Death (1932) to that, bringing the total of Crofts’ works in ready circulation up to twenty. I have no idea why they’re being published out of order, and frankly I don’t really care — it’s mainly just delightful to see him getting some traction — and I wanted to celebrate by continuing my broadly chronological reading of Crofts with this, the first of his which ever came to my attention.
Agatha Christie famously wrote the final novels to feature her two biggest sleuths well ahead of their publication, and where Hercule Poirot’s swansong Curtain (1975) was a joyous return to the heights for a character she had grown weary of, Sleeping Murder (1976) — the last hurrah for Miss Jane Marple, a character you can’t help but feel Christie had a growing respect for as she aged — is…fine. Yes, it had a cogency and precision that At Bertram’s Hotel (1965) and Nemesis (1971) sorely needed, but in all honesty the sound and fury on display here signifies something that doesn’t even add up to a hill o’ beans, if you’ll forgive my mixing of classics.
Can a book still be a masterpiece if it’s not brilliant? In the case of Gaston Leroux’s debut The Mystery of the Yellow Room (1907) — which plays up to and anticipates so many of the established and forthcoming trappings of detective fiction — I’d say yes. The focus on propelling the plot at a time when even those who were focussed on plot weren’t exactly propulsive is both admirable and impressive, and the creativity Leroux brings to a subgenre that would utilise the secret passage for another 60+ years is staggering. But it would be folly to claim that age has not caught up with it and that this was in the same class as the genre’s genuine masterpieces of the 1930s.
You’ve doubtless heard of Lee Child, author of the Jack Reacher books in which the gargantuan ex-serviceman does plenty of fightin’ and figurin’, and if there’s a bigger name in publishing today it’s only because James Patterson has, like, 86 co-authors.