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Murder by Death

Book Review: The Golden Age of Murder, by Martin Edwards
Subtitled The mystery of the writers who invented the modern detective story, this book follows the formation and history of the Detection Club from 1930 through to the post-war era.

Starting with a description of the initiation ritual of the club, Edwards goes on to outline the lives of some of its members: probably most famously today Christie and Sayers, but also many others. The various sections of the book are formed around themes - rules for dealing with the reader, escapism (after World War 1, but also in the economic slump of the 1930s), the role of the police, and morality in crime fiction. Throughout, he highlights areas of the authors' personal lives, and also of real crimes, that influenced their writing. In the 1920s and 1930s, with radio in its infancy, there were also experiments in writing and broadcasting round-robin stories, with several authors taking turns in sequence to complete a story. A couple of interesting links to Bletchley Park are noted - from Ronald Knox to Dilly Knox, who worked in intelligence in both wars, and also to Christie, who was investigated early during World War 2 after a character named "Major Bletchley" was included in a story.

For many writers, the form fell out of fashion during or after World War 2, though Edwards highlights links through to more recent times (particularly P D James and Colin Dexter). There are one or two points where I feel Edwards is taking things too seriously - particularly in rebutting criticism of the genre - but I suppose he has considered his task in part to be a definitive history of the club. For the most part, though, it is just entertaining.
Tags: books, history
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