Golden Age mystery list
August 12, 2020 1:36 PM   Subscribe

I've been a long-time Dorothy L. Sayers fan, and from there branched out into reading lots of mysteries from roughly the 20s-30s. I've read (or am aware of and am getting to) many of the major authors, and I'm looking for new books to queue up next.

Recently, thanks to this podcast, I discovered the existence of E.C.R. Lorac. I've been devouring the ones I've been able to get to, and I realized there was a big untapped list of authors I could try from the British Crime Library Classics series. I strongly prefer good characters and atmosphere over a tricksy plot (that is, I don't mind an incredible mystery plot but if the characters are cardboard, I'll be bored.) Mysteries that are too focused on elaborate train schedules (sorry, 5 Red Herrings) or that put all their energy into crafting a perfect locked-room scenario but neglect to give the detective a personality leave me cold.

Based on this, can you recommend other books from the list I should try?
posted by PussKillian to Media & Arts (23 answers total) 56 users marked this as a favorite

I'm a huge Sayers fan, and I would heartily recommend the Flavia de Luce series set in the early 1950s, but it could very easily be the1930s. It's won everything, it deserves all of it, and there are 10 whole books in the series.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:49 PM on August 12, 2020 [3 favorites]

Our First Murder, Chanslor, reprinted by the Rue Morgue Press which specializes in exactly this.
posted by clew at 1:57 PM on August 12, 2020

The real Wittgenstein was a big fan of the Doan and Carstairs novels of Norbert Davis, a detective and his great dane partner. These are funny but dated - they were originally published in Dime Detective and similar magazines, so you have to decide if that is a deal breaker, but if not, they are readily available online for free.
posted by wittgenstein at 2:00 PM on August 12, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I really liked the Loracs I’ve read (and the one in her Carnac persona!), and have read a number of the British Library titles. To start with, the ones by Martin Edwards are all collections of short stories chosen by him to fit a theme.

I particularly enjoyed the the ones by John Bude, as well as both The Arsenal Stadium Mystery and the Division Bell Mystery, the latter two as much for their interesting locations. (A football (soccer) stadium, and the House of Commons - and written by an MP.)
posted by scorbet at 2:26 PM on August 12, 2020

Best answer: For beautifully done characters, I really like Malice Aforethought by Francis Iles.
posted by JanetLand at 2:39 PM on August 12, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Dean Street Press has been reprinting Golden Age mysteries. Some of them are around the $.99 to $2.99 price range on Amazon.
posted by Constance Mirabella at 2:39 PM on August 12, 2020

You might enjoy the Phryne Fisher mysteries, about a 20s/30s socialite detective in Melbourne, Australia. Basically a female Wimsey. The author, Kerry Greenwood, has cited Sayers as an influence.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 3:42 PM on August 12, 2020

Best answer: I see there are a couple of Mary Kelly books on the list you posted, but if you haven't read her yet, I'd push her toward the top of your list. Also V.C. Clinton-Baddeley, whose books may have the best titles of any I've ever read.
posted by dizziest at 3:50 PM on August 12, 2020

Phoebe Atwood Taylor
posted by Text TK at 6:05 PM on August 12, 2020 [1 favorite]

Lauri Robinson’s “The flapper’s fake fiancé” is a murder mystery romance with a lot of twenties context. It’s the first in the three-part series “Sisters of the roaring twenties”, but I haven’t read the other two.
posted by meijusa at 12:25 AM on August 13, 2020

Best answer: I came in to recommend Lorac, who I think is probably the best of the BL list. You know the Crossed Skis one is also her I guess. You might like Ellen Wilkinson's The Division Bell, not so much for the quality of the writing, but for the insight into the House of Commons (Wilkinson was an MP.) (on preview - as scorbet says) Other than that, maybe Moray Dalton of the Dean Street list. Although the existence of the BL imprint is a Good Thing, it does reveal how many writers of the time were not really about character.

If you haven't come across the BL conferences, it's worth looking at the suggested reading lists there. And MeMail me if you'd like to talk about Golden Age fiction! Or maybe we need a FanFare thread?
posted by paduasoy at 12:47 AM on August 13, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I was going to come back and recommend Moray Dalton, but I see paduasoy has already done so. Also, you may like Elizabeth Daly's Henry Gamadge books.

Looking again at the list, I would particularly dis-recommend Freeman Wills Croft. I find his a bit tedious, and I think I have a higher tolerance for plot/no character than you do.

Or maybe we need a FanFare thread?
Yes, please!

posted by scorbet at 1:03 AM on August 13, 2020

Best answer: If an earlier era is tolerable, I'd suggest The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins. Another of his novels, The Moonstone, is also good, but there isn't much mystery to the mystery. Collins is said to have written Four Great Novels, but I dont know anything about the other two.

Also, you might like the Father Brown books by GK Chesterton. Some of the volumes are short stories. I'm sure Chesterton thought the stories were 80% character and 20% mystery but maybe they dont read that way to the modern reader. Chesterton's world is not the real world as we see it now. The original Father Brown stories are nothing, and I mean absolutely nothing, like the British TV series.
posted by SemiSalt at 4:52 AM on August 13, 2020 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Paduasoy, a Fanfare thread would be so much fun!
posted by PussKillian at 6:47 AM on August 13, 2020

I'm a huge fan of Ngaio Marsh, and her Inspector Alleyn series begins in the 30s (and continues into the 70s!) I saw one episode of the television series and hated the way they changed her story; the books are better.
posted by ceejaytee at 6:59 AM on August 13, 2020 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I asked a different but related question recently, and got some great responses :) (and I totally agree about 5 Red Herrings)
posted by altolinguistic at 8:47 AM on August 13, 2020

Seconding Ngaio Marsh and adding Marjorie Allingham.
Her Albert Campion is similar to Peter Whimsey.
Martha Grimes is modern but scratches that same itch for me.
posted by BoscosMom at 2:17 PM on August 13, 2020

nthing Flavia de Luce by Alan Bradley! Flavia is a whip-smart preteen in a 1950s English village with a great love of death and chemistry. she has TONS of personality and i love her narrative voice. the rivalries between her and her two older sisters, her teamwork with the family's faithful manservant, and her interactions with the peculiar village people are what make the series so enjoyable.

i *was* going to recommend Ngaio Marsh, but TBH i cannot remember a single distinguishing feature about Det. Roderick Alleyn. i do remember that the casts of supporting characters and suspects are very entertaining, however. i will always remember the description of one character as "slightly, but not unattractively, strabysmic."
posted by wintersonata9 at 4:33 PM on August 13, 2020

Following up on the mention of Josephine Tey, Nicola Upson is writing mystery novels with Tey as a character. The book are set back in the thirties when Tey was having success writing for the theater. The stories are as much about Tey and the times as about the mystery.
posted by SemiSalt at 5:31 PM on August 13, 2020

Best answer: I just discovered Patricia Wentworth. She is not Dorothy Sayers, sigh, but then who is? Her sleuth Miss Silver, although a little on the omniscient side, is good fun and I'm enjoying them. Plus, there are a lot of books, which is a huge plus if you eat them like I do. I will second Marjorie Allingham, Ngaio Marsh and Josephine Tey although you've probably read them and you have, I assume, read all of Dame Agatha by now. If you haven't, Miss Marple and Tommy and Tuppence are much more likable than Hercule Poirot. Phoebe Atwood Taylor, mentioned above, is American but same time period and same sprightly 30s/40s chatter; I really love her Asey Mayo books. Mary Roberts Rinehart, also American, can be a lot of fun too.
posted by mygothlaundry at 5:48 PM on August 13, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Have you tried the Bobby Owen series, by ER Punshon? I've been enjoying them. And a second for Miss Silver, and Flavia, and Roderick Alleyn as well.
posted by korej at 10:02 AM on August 15, 2020

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone. In some cases you pointed me towards other books in the Crime Library series, and in some cases pointed me back at authors I had tried but wasn't actively reading at the moment. For example, I'd started the Miss Silver books and disliked the first one, but they have steadily improved and now, with a Hoopla account, I can start reading them in bulk. Also thanks to altolinguistic's previous question, I'm now reading The Adventures of Miss Caley.

I've already read Ngaio Marsh, Josephine Tey, and G.K. Chesterton, although for the latter two it's been a while and they could probably stand a reread.

For modern books, I did read the first two Flavia books and enjoyed them, but was never really hooked on them to keep reading. Ditto Miss Fisher - I watched more of the tv show than I read of the books.

At any rate, more recs from the Crime Library list, or in general, will always be appreciated.
posted by PussKillian at 10:37 AM on August 17, 2020

« Older Another career promotion conversation question...   |   Bike fit question Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.