A Behind the Scenes Look at Reprinting the Golden Age: Interviewing the Dean Street Press

As you might have twigged by now, I am a massive fan of Golden Age detective fiction and DSPthis 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 comes a stranger (small)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.

A sneak peak inside the Jerrold Family Photo Album: Ianthe Jerrold and her Sisters

A sneak peak inside the Jerrold Family Photo Album: Ianthe Jerrold and her Sisters

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 The Crime at Tattenham Cornerquestioned 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.

Rutland novels

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.

 Haynes and Wentworth

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About armchairreviewer

Qualified English teacher, with a passion for literature and crime fiction. On a random note I also own pygmy goats and chickens with afros (it doesn't get any cooler than that).
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29 Responses to A Behind the Scenes Look at Reprinting the Golden Age: Interviewing the Dean Street Press

  1. JJ says:

    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.

    A very interesting interview, Kate, but (possibly controversially!) I couldn’t agree less with this statement – I’m a firm believer in absolute fealty to the source material as surely part of its appeal is its reflection of the time in which it was written. There seems to be an undue caution in removing offensive terminology, as if leaving it in is tantamount to condoning its use or supporting its attitude. Surely we’re enlightened enough, discerning enough, intelligent enough, and secure enough in these times not to have to explain this kind of thing away.

    It concerns me a little that such a decision can be made so quickly, too, but then I’m sure many people will disagree with me.

    Anyway, that asid very interesting; will be curious to see what else comes out of DSP in the coming months, and also praying fervently that they do away with their ragged right edge so that I can read their books without getting a headache!

    Liked by 2 people

    • It certainly is an emotive and complex issue. I imagine if the racist term being used is not directed to oneself and one’s own nationality it is perhaps easier to look at the term more detachedly and as a product of its’ time. However, if that word is directed to oneself this probably isn’t so easy and may well ruin your reading experience. I guess that this word which was removed from the text probably didn’t impact the plot in anyway so by removing it, offence/ upset could be prevented. Of course it depends on what the context of the word was. In Too Many Cooks by Rex Stout – the N word is left in, but then it is contextualised and spoken by characters who the reader are not supposed to like. I do see where you are coming from in regards to fealty to the text and not whitewashing the past though. So do you disagree with the word changes made to And Then There Were None?

      Liked by 1 person

      • JJ says:

        I don’t see it as an emotive thing at all, I see it as uninformed and purely reactionary; calling a book Ten Little N*ggers is obviously unacceptable now, I support that change wholeheartedly, but finding one or more offensive terms in the pages of a book – in context, where its use by charatcers or in the historical naivety in which such comments were made can be perfectly grasped and understood because by then you’ve taken the time to appreciate that context – is a different thing. From memory I’m pretty sure Death in the Clouds contains an insulting term in an insulting way (used by two likeable characters….Brad will be able to help me out here) but no-one seems to be aware of it in the same way because, well, it’s in context; it’s probably been removed from later editions, but it’s not like anyone kicked up the same fuss over that as they did with TLN, and rightly so in both cases. It’s not quite the same issue, but while I’d certainly object to a book being called F*ck or C*nt I have no problem with those words in the text.

        To take ATTWN, I don’t see why recent books have the island changed from Indian Island to Soldier Island. It’s a minor thing, and obviously the counter-argument that it’s so minor it shouldn’t matter holds, but then it’s an argument that also eats itself: if it doesn’t matter, why change it? Assuming that people will find something ofensive is, if anything, the most offensive course to take: “Oh, well, you’ll not possibly be able to understand why this is in there, so I better remove it so that you don’t have to worry about it”.

        Liked by 3 people

      • Well I would disagree with the idea of issue not involving emotions at all, as racism does provoke a lot of emotional responses from people and I think this includes when people see it in books and films. I think Brad has very eloquently explained, far better than I can, in his own response to this post reasoning behind editing texts and why the Christie island went from Indian to Soldier.

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  2. bkfriedman says:

    First thing first: great interview, Kate, and if Mr. Heath happens to read these comments, I want to add my thanks for the way DSP has made accessible to us authors, many of whom I for one have never heard, who were part of a literary movement that we all love. And, given how much I adored Knock, Murderer, Knock, he makes me even more excited about reading the next two Rutland novels. (Can’t say I’m as excited about 31 Wentworth novels, but – like you guys – I look at the size of my TBR pile and can’t say I have nothing to do.)

    Now to roll up my sleeves and address the elephant in the room: it would be fascinating to compare with both of you the degree to which this level of sensitivity – people use the term political correctness with some disdain – permeates our respective countries. In my country, we have some MAJOR wrongs to address, and we don’t seem to have a handle on, or agreement of, how to keep our racially diverse stew from boiling over. You can’t make people love their neighbor or throw off racist thinking, so you set laws and rules of behavior to at least enforce an appearance of social propriety; this may prevent the aforementioned “boiling over,” but it often finds our society at a constant simmer. We find that in the relationship between law enforcement and the black community, between Republicans and immigrants, between Donald Trump and Muslims . . . It sometimes feels impossible to see how we can stop making war with each other within our own borders.

    So it’s an EASY “fix” to look over the enormous amount of past references we’ve made in literature and film that amount to blatant racism and cut them out as if they never happened. That’s why my DVD of Shirley Temple in Just Around the Corner has a blip in the middle of Bill “Bojangles” Robinson singing “Brass Buttons and Epaulets” (where he’s supposed to be singing, “We can pick that cotton way down South, but there ain’t much money there!”) It’s why San Francisco refuses to show Charlie Chan films on TV. I didn’t see them again until I was in, of all places, London! Now I own all the Fox Chans, and frankly I think that black people come off even worse than the Chinese, but at least nothing has been edited out and I can squirm through the REALLY racist stuff as these otherwise glorious mysteries unfold. It’s why my high school changed its mascot from the Lowell Indians (as dozens of colleges and high schools across the country did because not only are Native Americans not Indian, but the image of a jumping “redskin” with a feather in his hair demeaned a race of people whom we had already decimated upon our entry into this nation.) That’s probably why Vera Claythorne meets her maker on Soldier Island these days, JJ – you can blame the Americans for that!

    In The Hollow, sweet Midge Hardcastle has to bear the brunt of a horrible “stout Jewess” of a customer. This nice Jewish boy had to bear THAT indignity running throughout early Christie. I think some of it was excised in American editions – I know that Dell edited Christie for CONTENT as well as political correctness. But I had to have those delicious Tom Adams covers, including the wasp on the cover of Death in the Clouds (where Jane Grey and Norman Gale, on their heavenly first date, realize that “they disliked loud voices, noisy restaurants and Negroes.” Well, at least we know how well that relationship turned out!)

    Do I think this stuff should be cut out? I don’t know. I want to be able to say to a black or Native American friend, “You have to watch this glorious revival of ATTWN on the BBC” – and now I can. I would never attempt to defend my enjoyment of the Chan films to an Asian friend, and I have to respect when they call out Fox or Warner Oland or whoever for the pain these depictions may have caused them. Was Mr. Heath’s decision “in a nanosecond” to eliminate an offensive phrase done in honor of the potential audience he did not wish to harm – not just offend, but harm – at the sight of these words? Of that, I have no doubt.

    Does that split second decision presage other decisions and more casual editing to the point where nothing offends or angers or even moves us? Does the elimination of racist banter in fiction or film do much to heal old wounds or improve our society? These are larger questions I cannot answer here, where I fear my response is getting longer than Kate’s review. I only know that the dialogue we have about it is important.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Really enjoyed reading your response, as I think you put into words much better than I could the issues surrounding text censorship and I think it is a debate which may never be conclusively settled, as the answer lies in between two very extreme viewpoints e.g. allow any word in books or remove all offensive words and this middle point is hard to pin point and moreover, this middle may vary from country to country, as you suggest that political correctness and attitudes towards it do differ. I think also the point you make about editing texts opens it up to more readers sometimes is a good one, with your example of ATTWN. It would be a shame if people missed out on reading a good detective novel due to a handful of unfortunate words which were of there time.

      Liked by 2 people

    • JJ says:

      This runs the risk of overshadowing the interview, so I’ll make one final point and I’m done: in a wider sense, I don’t see how the discussions around racism are supported in any way by bowdlerising it out of all popular culture – to take the obvious example, we don’t stop talking about Hitler just because we found what he did distasteful; an appreciation of these things in context is important, and as that is slowly eroded piece by piece the essentiual wrongness of it is lost.

      Not that my opinion really matters – I’m in no place to do anything about it! And, Kate, I sincerely apologise for hijacking your fun interview post for a discussion on censorship. I shall go to my naughty step and think about what I’ve done 🙂

      Liked by 3 people

  3. fbr says:

    Nice article. I am also a fan of this publisher and check regularly for new releases. Again, thank you for a great article hope you will have a chance to do others with Dean Street and similar publishers.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Glad you enjoyed it. Which of DSP’s novels have you tried so far? I too hope to do more interviews with publishers in the future. But if you want to see the perspective from a different publisher, Past Offences interviewed someone from the British Library on their crime classics reprints series: https://pastoffences.wordpress.com/2015/04/11/crime-publishing-at-the-british-library-an-interview-with-rob-davies/

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      • fbr says:

        More like hoarding than reading so far, but I did the read the first Ianthe Jarrold and the first Rutland. I enjoyed them both but preferred the Jarrold book. Also familiar with the British Library series. I read Martin Edward’s, ‘The Golden Age of Murder’ and it subsequently lead to a rapid expansion of my ebook library. But ..I’m not complaining.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Yes I think overall I might prefer Jerrold slightly more than Rutland but Rutland does produce a brilliant ending to her final Blue Murder, which is my favourite of her three and which I recommend you try. I also enjoy the BL series. Have you read any of the Harper Collins Crime Club reprints? At least an advantage of hoarding e-books is that they take much less space than physical books!

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  4. Carol M says:

    I have been buying a lot of the Dean Street Press reprints lately so this interview was interesting and enjoyable. It’s a shame that older texts sometimes have to be bowdlerised to remove terminology which might be seen as offensive today, but sadly that is the nature of the beast. Personally I prefer to see a text with all its original text intact (I treasure my battered paperbacks of ATTWN, both with the original title and also with some cover art which would never pass muster today!) but then I feel I have the ability and perspective to realise that what was an acceptable term in previous times would be unacceptable now, and to judge the book within its own historical context. However, not everyone reading a book approaches it from that angle; and I don’t suppose that any publisher re-issues a book with any intent to offend. And at least these texts are being introduced to a new readership instead of being allowed to sink into permanent obscurity, even if they have been slightly edited.
    Maybe there’s a case for such books to be issued in two editions, one edited, one not, with a suitable warning on the cover. True, this would be a more expensive approach for the publisher, but in these days of the ebook it ought to be possible at a reasonable price. I’d certainly buy them.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Which would you say is your favourite author from the DSP reprints? Your idea of having two editions is interesting one and not one I had considered before in the issue of text censorship.

      Like

      • cmikolj says:

        I’d say I’ve enjoyed the Harriet Rutland reprints the most so far- but as a long time reader of Patricia Wentworth I’m looking forward to seeing the non- Miss Sliver novels. I know her novels are cosy by modern standards, but sometimes cosy is just what one wants.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Yeah I get what you mean with Patricia Wentworth. I don’t think I have read any of Wentworth’s non Miss Silver novels so will be interesting to see what they are like.

        Like

  5. Thank you for the wonderful interview with Mr. Heath.
    I recently read a Crime Club novel from 1940 – Murder Draws a Line by Willetta Ann Barber and R. F. Schabelitz. Dropped into the story was the ‘w’ word for an Italian character. There was also a lot of bullying of a mentally ill character…thank goodness times have changed.
    It was a disappointment to read that DSP could not obtain the rights to the Nap Lombard book, its such a clever mystery.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Glad you enjoyed the interview. I haven’t come across the writers Willetta Ann Barber and R. F. Schabelitz before. Did they write many detective novels?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, seven. The HIBK is so overdone it may seem like a parody, but since the books are humorless, I doubt it.
        The murders tend to be rather gruesome or there are so many, its silly…why would you stay there waiting to be murdered?
        The saving grace are the illustrations in the books, done by Schabelitz, who was a well-regarded illustrator of the day.
        I did a quick check and I don’t think there were UK editions, but I am not sure.
        I disliked the first book but subsequent ones were a little better.
        I hope you can find one to read. I would love to read your review!
        Nancy

        Liked by 2 people

      • I shall have to keep my eyes peeled for a copy of one of their books, as I am always keen to try out new and obscure authors. A cursory glance on Amazon though does suggest I will need to learn Spanish in order to buy a reasonably priced copy of Barber and Schabelitz’s work.

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  6. Santosh Iyer says:

    The offending word in Death In The Clouds has been removed from present editions. The sentence now reads as “They disliked loud voices and noisy restaurants.”

    Liked by 3 people

  7. bkfriedman says:

    My favorite discovery last year, in addition to Harriet Rutland, was Helen McCloy, and her depiction of black characters in several of her books is very much a product of her times. No offensive word in evidence – in fact, she seems to have great affection for these people (who are all servants), but it’s the same patronizing affection one finds in Gone With the Wind. From a sociological standpoint and as a chronicle of those times, it is fascinating, but it is also repellent. I’m not saying it should be cut, but it might have been nice to have a warning issued or perhaps an introduction (in the vein of Curtis Evans) could have been written to shine a light about cultural attitudes of the day. And that might be cheaper than two editions.

    JJ, I think we teach Hitler in context, and we must continue to teach about him so that we can recognize the next Hitler and stop him. Some school districts give short shrift to World War II, calling it “old history,” but we can’t let people forget the lessons it provides. Still, I wouldn’t want anyone diving into Mein Kampf without some warning if what they’re going to find there.

    Liked by 2 people

    • JJ says:

      I appreciate that the Recourse to Hitler argument isn’t the best example, but the difference with something like Mein Kampf is that it’s effectively hate speech – it’s deliberately intended to make scapegoats of a group of people based on their race. GA fiction is simply reflecting the now-outmoded and naive perspectives of a society that didn’t know any better, and doing so as a very minor aspect of an overall bigger intention (namely telling a story with no basis in the race/sexuality/etc aspects of its characters). It’s my own fault for drawing The Hitler Card, I’m aware, but it was the best I could do at short notice!

      Liked by 1 person

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  11. eyoki says:

    Fascinating interview. I’ve often wondered how Dean Street Press and others find the long-lost novels they re-print. God bless Curtis Evans.

    I loved ER Punshon’s Bobby Owen series (love is not too strong a word) and I’ve also enjoyed the books by Ianthe Jerrold, Harriet Rutland and Molly Thynne.

    Enjoyed the interesting and intelligent debate about racism / censorship too. It really is good to come across people discussing something, rather than flinging insults back and forth.

    Liked by 1 person

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