Top Ten Tuesday: Books Set in… the Golden Age of Crime

Posted November 28, 2023 by Nicky in Reviews / 28 Comments

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.

Cover of Strong Poison by Dorothy L. Sayers Cover of Fire in the Thatch by E.C.R. Lorac Cover of Death in the Tunnel by Miles Burton Cover of The Sussex Downs Murder by John Bude

  1. 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.
  2. 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.)
  3. 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.
  4. 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!
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.

Cover of Death on the Down Beat by Sebastian Farr Cover of Twice Round the Clock by Billie Houston Cover of Miss Phryne Fisher Investigates by Kerry Greenwood Cover Death at Wentwater Court by Carola Dunn Cover of Shady Hollow by Juneau Black

Alright, that was a bit of work! Did anything there interest you? I’d be curious to hear!

Tags: , , ,


28 responses to “Top Ten Tuesday: Books Set in… the Golden Age of Crime

    • I learned about it when I studied the development of crime fiction in university (which is, ugh, far too long ago now, haha). I’d never thought much about it before!

  1. What a fabulous topic! I love older detective novels – like Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Milhone series – because the detectives really have to use their brains and the evidence to figure things out. Modern methods are great, but there’s something about the old fashioned way of doing things.

    Here is our Top Ten Tuesday. Thank you!

    • These are all quite a bit older than Kinsey Milhone, but Sue Grafton’s books definitely were a transition point — I actually read A is for Alibi for the class on the development of crime fiction I did back when I did my first degree. I didn’t love it but I keep wondering about giving it another shot, now I’ve got a lot more into crime!

      Thanks for dropping by!

  2. I’ve see the Miss Fisher TV show and LOVE it so someday I should try to read the novels. I also adore the Christie adaptations, too, so reading one of hers at some point is on my mental TBR list. Dorothy Sayers is a familiar name, too so I think I’ve heard some good things about her novels as well. More authors to add to that list! 🙂 Thanks so much for visiting my website today.

    • I’ve only seen a bit of it but it’s a really good adaptation, from what I can tell! There are some differences, but a lot of the same spirit, you know?

      Dorothy L. Sayers is one of the “queens” of that era; I’m very fond of her work.

  3. Death in the Tunnel I need to get. For the cover alone. Sussex Downs I have and enjoyed. Shady Hollow is on my radar now also.

    There’s something about the covers of some of those Crime Classics. They evoke something, and they’re books I like to have out and just see them from time to time as I walk around the house lol

    • They have such lovely cover design, don’t they? And they look like they all belong together, like it’d be a crime (ha) to split them up.

  4. I think one of the things I like about the modern books set in the same period is that they are more free to deal with topics that probably weren’t publishable then, like the Will Darling books of gay skullduggery (the moral ambiguity was allowed but likely wouldn’t have sold well).

    I might just take a few books from this list and see if that helps my slump, since I do like this period and detective novels…

    • That’s a good point, yes!

      I find classic mystery stories so soothing somehow, and easy to read. I find it’s often what I personally want when I’m in a bit of a slump, at least.

  5. yggdrasille

    Great twist on a topic! I’m not very familiar with the Golden Age crime aside from Agatha Christie, though I’ve heard the name of Dorothy L. Sayers a lot.

    • I really like Sayers’ work! It’s a bit more literary than Christie’s, but I’m a huge fan of Lord Peter (Sayers’ series detective).

    • There are so many classic crime books to enjoy, especially with the British Library series reissuing a lot of them! And their editions are so nice-looking.

    • I go through phases of reading, too… I used to read mostly SF/F, but I’ve broadened my horizons a bit. For now, at least. Who knows…

  6. Wow, what an interesting topic! I love that you included a combination of older and modern novels. I’m curious what these are like, and now I’m going to have to read one of them! Thanks for the inspiration.

    • I find Christie’s books clever but not always super-absorbing — I latch onto characters a bit more than I do clever plots. I’ve found my way to enjoying them, but it’s not always a perfect fit.

Leave a Reply

CommentLuv badge

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.