This week’s Top Ten Tuesday prompt is “Top Ten Books Set in X”. I was having trouble thinking of a place or a type of location or anything that I was confident of thinking up ten items for — but I do know a lot about the Golden Age of crime. The Golden Age for crime fiction was basically in the 1920s and 1930s, and it featured a lot of books written in the same kind of framework, often set in the interwar period. Usually an unlikeable character is set up and then murdered, and a detective (amateur, private or police) comes along and solves the mystery, closing things out with a comfortable solution that sees order restored. Often the solution is very clever — locked room mysteries and such, very contrived, setting a puzzle for the reader.
These books tend to have a certain sort of feel to them, and I love them dearly. So without further ado, here’s a top ten of books with that kind of feel. I’m not just going to include classic books or books that are strictly from the Golden Age, but also a couple of books that I think try to tap into the feel of that era.
- Strong Poison, by Dorothy L. Sayers. Sayers was a giant of this genre, along with others like Agatha Christie and Ngaio Marsh, and Strong Poison features not only her series detective (Lord Peter Wimsey), but his love interest and eventual wife, Harriet Vane. In writing the two of them together, Sayers was often at her wittiest, and they have a slow-burn, will-they-won’t-they for the ages.
- The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, by Agatha Christie. I couldn’t leave out the queen here, so I’ll give you the book I read first and which got me hooked on books of the period. She breaks the “rules” in a couple of ways, but most readers won’t mind, because it’s a fun puzzle. (It’s also worth noting that Christie often wrote about poisons with intimate knowledge, though not in this book — if you’re curious, I recommend Kathryn Harkup’s A is for Arsenic, which discusses that at some length.)
- Fire in the Thatch, by E.C.R. Lorac. I think E.C.R. Lorac was genuinely among the greats of the era, even though she was mostly forgotten (at least until the British Library Crime Classics series started republishing her work). This one is characteristic of the care she takes to evoke people and a landscape and a way of living. It’s a little later than the peak Golden Age of crime, but nonetheless, it has that feel to it.
- Death in the Tunnel, by Miles Burton. This mystery is one I absolutely loved — and one which would’ve fit into my other potential category, which was “books set on trains”. It’s less focused on people and place than Lorac, and more about the puzzle — and it was a fun one!
- The Sussex Downs Murder, by John Bude. As an example of this genre/setting, this is a good one; it’s a solid puzzle, with the sort of methodical detecting characteristic of the period. This sounds like I’m damning it with faint praise, but I’d rather say I’m setting expectations. I enjoyed it a lot, but you have to enjoy it as what it is, and not as a modern psychological crime novel.
- Death on the Down Beat, by Sebastian Farr. This one came as a bit of a surprise to me when I read it: it’s an epistolary novel, and also includes a piece of music as a vital clue. It also managed to fool me, which isn’t always easy.
- Twice Around the Clock, by Billie Houston. This is a book that was celebrated a bit more when it came out, owing to the author’s minor celebrity. It’s a country house novel with a closed circle of suspects, which is such a classic situation that (combined with the fact that I found it a lot of fun) I had to include it.
- Cocaine Blues, by Kerry Greenwood. This one is, of course, a modern novel — and it’s preoccupied with a few things that the classics usually aren’t (sex, fashion, etc). But it has a little of the same feel, to me — and you can believe that the Honorable Phryne Fisher has met Lord Peter Wimsey.
- Death at Wentwater Court, by Carola Dunn. Again, this is a modern novel, but it feels very Golden Age. Daisy Dalrymple is an enjoyable protagonist, and certain aspects of the situation in this book are deeply classic for mysteries of the Golden Age.
- Shady Hollow, by Juneau Black. Bear with me here, because this isn’t only a modern novel, but also all the protagonists are animals, living peacefully together (herbivores beside carnivores) in a little village. It also feels much less British than all the others I’ve listed. But this is my list, and I get to include something a little aside from the track if I want to: it’s the little village setting and the old-timey feel that makes this one fit into my list.
Alright, that was a bit of work! Did anything there interest you? I’d be curious to hear!