Monday, May 18, 2015

Forgotten Writers

I've been having to work hard at my homework this past couple of weeks. CrimeFest, the huge crime festival in Britain, gathers the clan of crime writers together from all parts of the British Isles and far, far beyond and I'm on two panels.

One presents no problems. 'It's a Fair Cop' is its title and four women writers – Elizabeth Haynes, Sheila Bugler, Valentina Giambanco and me – with a moderator, Priscilla Masters, will be discussing our female protagonists. I've often done this sort of panel before and it's usually both easy and fun, with lots of interesting issues coming up.

The other one is different. The other is called 'Forgotten Writers' and it's based on Martin Edwards' fascinating and scholarly book, The Golden Age of Murder, about the crime writers between the two World Wars who were involved in the famous Detection Club – GK Chesterton, Dorothy Sayers, John Creasey, and so many more.The challenge for each of us on the panel is to talk about two of the writers who  have somehow been forgotten over the years so I have to know something about them, instead of just chatting on.

My two writers are Ronald Knox and Margery Allingham. I was taken by surprise when I realised that she had somehow dropped out of the truly famous bracket since for me she has always been one of the greats. As a result, I went back to the books with some trepidation but found that they are still just as fresh and lively as they were then. They are dated, of course, but no more so than the ever-popular Agatha Christie's are, and Margery Allingham's Albert Campion is quite as much of a character as Hercule Poirot. And with Allingham, you have the amazing bonus of Magersfontein Lugg, the burglar turned gentleman's gentleman – one of the joys of English literature.

I have become totally addicted. Who wouldn't be, after reading the section where Lugg solemnly teaches the six-year-old daughter of the country house where the murder has taken place how to pick a lock? The stories are clever too, and suspenseful with some quite serious insights into human nature, particularly in the later books. Go out and read one now!

Sourcing Allingham's books wasn't a problem. I still have my father's copies published as green Penguins and I've added a few of my own since. Ronald Knox, however, was more elusive. I knew him only for the famous Decalogue which stipulates, among other prohibitions, that in writing detectives stories, 'No accident must ever help the detective, nor must he have an unaccountable intuition which proves to be right; No hitherto undiscovered poisons may be used, nor any appliance which will need a long scientific explanation at the end; Not more than one secret room or passage is allowed.'

Humorous stuff. But the only copy of his books I could find was on, which had several so I started out with The Footstep at the Lock, planning to tackle them all. But alas, I wearied. Humour is all very well, but facetiousness, quite frankly, isn't. Endless, nit-picking discussion of alibis, wooden characters and a totally implausible solution isn't either.

Some books deserve to be forgotten. But some don't – like I said, go and read a Margery Allingham!


Sybil Johnson said...

I love Margery Allingham. Wouldn't have put her in the forgotten category either.

Aline Templeton said...

My problem is I'm totally addicted now, reading right the way through the whole canon!