As you might have twigged by now, I am a massive fan of Golden Age detective fiction and this last year has been quite a treat for me and other fans, as publishers such as the Dean Street Press have been reprinting a large number of mysteries from the Golden Age period, which we otherwise wouldn’t have got to read including: Annie Haynes, Harriet Rutland, E. R. Punshon, Robin Forsythe and Ianthe Jerrold. But how do such reprints come about? Is it all lucky finds in people’s attics? To find out a bit more about the reprinting process I decided to pick the brains of Rupert Heath, the publisher of the Dean Street Press.
An easy question to begin with…
Question 1: What is your role within the Dean Street Press?
I am the publisher of the imprint, which means I get to choose the books we publish, and how we publish them.
Question 2: Due to your reprinting of obscure or forgotten crime fiction authors, many readers get to enjoy books they wouldn’t get to read otherwise, but what processes or stages lead to this? How are these hidden gems discovered?
We publish more than just crime, but that has become a major area for us. In some cases they were titles I found out about on my own, and in some they were recommendations. I owe much to the crime fiction historian Curtis Evans, who introduced me to, and recommended, many of the authors we’ve chosen to re-publish. Finding the estates, where applicable, makes for some interesting detective work; locating copies of the books themselves is also sometimes challenging. For one of our recently published titles, Comes a Stranger by E. R. Punshon, the only copy I was able to locate was in the British Library. It was from 1938, and was like a brand new book – they knew how to build em then! Usually a printed copy of a book is available to use as source material, though occasionally as with the Punshon, extreme rarity is a problem. Everything we’ve published so far has been published before, so no actual manuscripts have been involved, though I have been through some of Ianthe Jerrold’s family photo albums and home movies. Robin Forsythe’s daughter in law lent me books and photographs as well.
Question 3: The cover designs for your titles are quite distinctive. How did they come about?
The cover designs are something we spend a lot of time on – we aim to have covers which don’t resemble mainstream book design, which tends to go out of style quickly. We were quite influenced by vintage cigarette package design for our early jackets – the next batch will be branching out a bit more. Watch this space.
Question 4: Have you ever had to edit any of the texts you have reprinted?
I try not to edit the texts more than is strictly necessary. More than one reader has questioned whether there are typos in Annie Haynes’ novels, since she sometimes uses unusual freestanding adverbial clauses following passages of dialogue – that’s really her, not us! In the case of one book (not Annie Haynes’) I removed what is today an extremely racist term – I debated for about one nanosecond whether to retain it for historical accuracy, then made the right decision.
Question 5: How do you decide who to reprint and who not to? Have there been any authors you have decided to not reprint?
The main criteria are quality and rarity. I can’t think of anyone we have specifically decided not to publish – there are certainly plenty more we do want to publish.
Question 6: Have there been any authors you wanted to reprint, but were unable to do so?
Ironically the first classic crime author I wanted to publish turned out to be someone I couldn’t. Leo Bruce is one of my favourite crime novelists of the golden age, but unfortunately the rights to his novels were elsewhere. I also wanted to publish Nap Lombard’s interesting wartime whodunit Murder’s a Swine (aka The Grinning Pig), but the agent wouldn’t allow it.
Question 7: What is your favourite title from the detective novels you have reprinted so far and why?
I have a particular liking for Harriet Rutland’s three mysteries Knock, Murderer, Knock!, Bleeding Hooks and Blue Murder, for their freshness, humour and social observation.
Question 8: Would you describe yourself as a fan of Golden Age detective novels and if so, has this been a lifelong love or a recent one? If the former which titles did you enjoy reading the most when you were younger?
Definitely! I was reading Agatha Christie when I was ten. Discovered Margery Allingham, Dorothy L. Sayers and Ngaio Marsh a few years late. They are still the big four. My favourite Christie novel is And Then There Were None – probably the last of her great ‘stunt’ whodunits, where she tried to do something never before achieved in crime fiction. One of the things I like about Leo Bruce is that he continued that kind of inventiveness – and so, in my opinion does Harriet Rutland in her last two novels, which both feature endgames which I wasn’t expecting and haven’t encountered anywhere else.
Question 9: What titles and authors can Golden Age crime fans look forward to in the coming months from the Dean Street Press?
We are soon to republish the remaining five Annie Haynes novels. And then in April we are starting a major republication program of all Patricia Wentworth’s non-Miss Silver novels – that’s thirty one books! So we’ll be keeping busy.