Tuesday Night Bloggers: First Encounters


To kick the year off the Tuesday Night Bloggers are looking at crime fiction firsts this month. Already we have had posts looking at the origins of detective fiction, John Dickson Carr’s Dr Fell series and J. J. Connington’s first novel. In case you missed last weeks’ posts here is the link to the roundup of them:

Week 1

And here are this week’s contributions:

Brad at ah sweet mystery blog: The First Poirot

JJ at The Invisible Event: Back to the Beginning with Agatha Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd

Moira at Clothes in Books: 1st from Mary McMullen

This week I decided to look at my first encounters with certain author’s works, sharing which titles I began with and whether or not they were a good starting point for me. I decided to look at some of the pre 1960s writers that I have read, as I felt it was these authors who shaped my later and current reading tastes a lot.

Image result for the saltmarsh murders

First up is Gladys Mitchell and although The Saltmarsh Murders (1932) is her fourth Mrs Bradley novel, it was my first experience of this wonderfully maverick amateur sleuth. For me I think it was a good first encounter as I enjoyed the comedy of the story and the vicar narrator was a good vehicle through which to follow the story and to experience Mrs Bradley (a narrative device which is also used to great effect in Christie’s earlier novel, The Murder at the Vicarage (1930)). Moreover, I think this is one of Mitchell’s more lucid plots. If I had say The Twenty Third Man (1957) as my first read I’m not sure I would have read as many Mitchell books as I have, due to the reduced coherence of the plot. Equally The Rising of the Moon (1967) could have put me off for life due to the sheer boredom it induced in me.

With Ngaio Marsh though my first read was also her first novel, A Man Lay Dead (1934). A Man Lay DeadAt the time I definitely found it a lot of fun, giving me the motivation to try more of her books (whether that is a good thing is debateable). This book is by no means my favourite Marsh novel, though I think it would have been anti-climactic if I had read my two favourites first (Surfeit of Lampreys (1941) and Scales of Justice (1955)), as by and large Marsh for me is a middle of the road author. I think the worst Marsh novel to start with though would be Spinsters in Jeopardy (1954) and if that had been my first encounter I’m not sure I would have ever returned to her work.

Image result for in spite of thunder john dickson carrHowever, with my third author, John Dickson Carr, I definitely started with a dud book, In Spite of Thunder (1960), which was such a poor reading experience that I never tried his books again until encouraged to by fellow bloggers JJ and the Puzzle Doctor (who writes In Search of the Classic Mystery blog). If only I had tried The Case of the Constant Suicides (1941) or The Emperor’s Snuff Box (1942) first! Either of these two would definitely have motivated me to go back to Carr’s work much sooner than I did.

I think I also started with a poorer read when I first

Image result for the china governess margery allingham

encountered Margery Allingham’s Campion novels, starting with The China Governess (1963). Campion did seem a bit past it all and didn’t really grab my interest. However, I think it was the BBC’s adaptations between 1989 and 1990 of a number of Campion novels which rekindled my interest in the books and although she is not a firm favourite I did enjoy reading The Tiger in the Smoke (1952) and Mr Campion and Others (1939).

Without having to look up the title I knew from memory which Gaudy Night 3was my first Dorothy L Sayers novel and that was Gaudy Night (1935). Highly controversial amongst crime fiction readers, but was a brilliant read for me, though in retrospect I think it would have made more sense to have read the Harriet Vane and Lord Peter Wimsey novels in order (Gaudy Night being book 3 in the quartet). This book definitely drove me to find others of her work and I think the only books which might have dampened my enthusiasm had I started with them first were The Nine Tailors (1934) and Five Red Herrings (1931).

Whilst my reading of Sayers went from strength to strength on the whole after my first read, my journey with the works of Image result for the silk stocking murders anthony berkeleyAnthony Berkeley was far more bumpy. My first encounter with his work was The Silk Stocking Murders (1928), which although I can’t remember much about, I didn’t really enjoy. This read was followed by Death in the House (1939), which was certainly not Berkeley at his best. My enjoyment of Berkeley only really began with his novels, The Poisoned Chocolates Case (1929) and Trial and Error (1937), which are by far stronger works.

Miss Pym DisposesI think a similar experience happened with me and my encounters with Josephine Tey as my first read of hers, Miss Pym Disposes (1946), was not entirely satisfactory and mainly led to me wanting to give the protagonist a stern lecture on responsibility and/or hit them. Yet I think in the main I went onto stronger and more enjoyable novels such as The Daughter of Time (1951), The Singing Sands (1952) and A Shilling for Candles (1936).

There are some authors though where a poor first read has not lead to better things. Freeman Wills Crofts is one such Image result for the groote park murderauthor. My first encounter with him was The Groote Park Murder (1923), which was a decidedly dull and painfully boring read. It definitely put me off for life and only when Dolores Gordon Smith at the first Bodies from the Library conference spoke so enthusiastically of him, did I decided to give him another go. Consequently I bought the two British Library reprints, The Hog’s Back Mystery (1933) and Antidote to Venom (1938). These however did not spur me on to others. Antidote to Venom is my favourite of the three books I have read, primarily because Inspector French doesn’t make an appearance until 2/3s of the way through (after that it becomes quite dire). The Hog’s Back Mystery though had Inspector French from very early on in the book and with passages praising new road ways it was a struggle to get to the end.

Image result for death at the president's lodging michael innesOccasionally there are those authors who you keep on trying, maybe because there books are easily available or perhaps because you feel like one more read may lead you to the book for you. Both of these reasons probably contributed to my reading of Michael Innes’ novels. My first encounter was with his first book, Death at the President’s Lodging (1937), a book I found to be rather middle of the road, not painfully boring, but not that amazing either. Yet I kept on trying his books and out of 11 reads, only one book, What Happened at Hazelwood (1946) was worth the read. This is definitely one of those instances where I had wished I had heeded the warning my first experience gave me.

Finally another couple of good first encounters were Georgette Heyer’s Envious Casca (1941), Edmund Crispin’s The Moving Toyshop (1946) and Cyril Hare’s Suicide Excepted (1939). All of these encouraged me to try more of the author’s works and in the case of the latter two authors these two books remain very firm favourites.

I don’t think any hard and firm rules can be made from my first encounter experiences. Sometimes they have been great and led to greater books. Others time they started well but ended not so good, whilst with some authors bad starts led to better books. The decision to quit or persevere may rest on the reasons why you disliked the first book. A bad plot decision might not be repeated or a different serial sleuth may work better. Yet when it comes to choices in narrative style or setting or subgenre, it may well be that the books aren’t just for you. I would love to hear other people’s thoughts on this as it is an idea I am still percolating.

Final Note

You may be wondering where Agatha Christie is. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to put her on my list as I can’t remember which was my first Christie novel. Terrible I know! And I know devoted Christie fan Brad will be most unimpressed with me (could even lose my buddy status!). The difficulty is that when I first started my good reads account which logs all my reads I added a lot of Christie titles at the same time, not adding them in order of when I read them. Looking at these titles I have tried and tried to remember which one was the first one. I have a feeling it could have been The Murder at the Vicarage (1930), as it was around the time I was beginning my dissertation on female sleuths and since I read all the Miss Marple novels for it, I feel like I would have started at the beginning of the series. But since I can’t be 100% sure it didn’t feel right to add it to the above list, as in this same batch of Christie reads there are a number of Tommy and Tuppence books, standalone novels with female protagonists and even some stories featuring Adriane Oliver. So hopefully once you’ve have recovered from the initial shock of this news you’ll find it in your hearts to forgive this misdemeanour.


  1. Speaking of Ngaio Marsh, have you read “Singing In The Shrouds”? I’m reading that right now and I’m wondering would you recommend it for a person who is reading Marsh for the first time? I tried read it when I was very young but I couldn’t adjust to her writing style so I didn’t return to her work . . . . until now and I’m starting “Singing In The Shrouds” once again.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think this was an alright one as far as I can remember. Another middle of the road one, which might not be a bad place to start, as it means you have better ones to come. Equally since most of Marsh’s books in my opinion are middle of the road it’ll give you a good idea of what to expect.


  2. my first read of hers, Miss Pym Disposes (1946), was not entirely satisfactory and mainly led to me wanting to give the protagonist a stern lecture on responsibility and/or hit them

    I think that may be the point of the novel. Miss Pym is essentially a quack psychologist, an early promoter of “self-help” books, and essentially she gets her comeuppance.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I totally get that but I’m the sort of reader who gets annoyed nonetheless. Equally I think it is the school and its students which get the comeuppance. Miss Pym just swans off to London again, with her head in the sand.


  3. I read A Man Lay Dead a while back and I have to say I think I would have abandoned the author for good if it had been my first. She wasn’t my favorite author anyway but that very nearly finished me with her.
    I recalled finding some books more entertaining and so have persevered and actually read two more titles lately: Artists in Crime and Tied up in Tinsel. The former is very good, a solid novel, while the latter is OK (and seasonal if you read it around Christmas) but a little too whimsical.

    And I’m always interested to hear about Berkeley – I’ve read nothing by him and feel I probably should.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I read A Man Lay Dead a while back and I have to say I think I would have abandoned the author for good if it had been my first.

      I couldn’t agree with you more. Like you, I started with a different Marsh (Spinsters in Jeopardy as it happens, sorry Kate!), and from that moment onward loved her work. At a guess I’ve read about half her novels over the years, perhaps fewer than that. I got to A Man Lay Dead just a year or two ago and, you’re right, it’s a stinker. On the other hand, it’s also a first novel, and Marsh herself admitted she wrote it pretty cynically.

      I’m boggled that I haven’t (so far as I can remember) come across Carr’s In Spite of Thunder. Must find it . . .

      Liked by 2 people

    • Oh you should definitely read Berkeley. Apart from the two titles I recommend in the post I would also recommend reading two of his novels under the name of Frances Iles – Malice Aforethought and Before the Fact.


    • I remember now that A Man Lay Dead was actually my first Ngaio Marsh and it started out okay. From what I can remember the book went a little downhill from there but I need to read it again with fresh eyes now since I was very young when I read it. I couldn’t get used to her writing style in the first book. I remember moving onto Singing In The Shrouds and again I just couldn’t get used to her writing style so I stopped mid-way with the book and completely with Ngaio Marsh altogether. All the books I had bought at the used bookstore since I was expecting to really enjoy the series, I gave them all away. Now I’m much older and more experienced in the mystery genre now and I’m currently reading again Singing In the Shrouds and I like it thus far. Still getting a little used to the writing style in some places but overall the experience is better than it was all those years ago. I hope “Shrouds” will get better and this time I will finish the book. If I have a good experience with this one I’ll move onto more Ngaio Marsh books.


  4. Don’t worry Kate, I can’t remember my first Christie either because I first started reading them when I was about nine years old and I still love them. Our house was awash with books and I was never barred from reading any of them because I was too young! I’ve always felt that was so lucky…
    My first Albert Campion book was The Crime at Black Dudley, which is unfortunate because it’s put me off Allingham for a long time. But I must try again with another one. I recently re-read Heyer’s Envious Casca, re-issued as A Christmas Party (which I think is a good thing as the original title rather gives the game away…), and I enjoyed it so much that I will be searching out some of Heyer’s other crime novels to rediscover.
    I think my first Marsh was Scales of Justice which to my mind is an excellent one to start with. I must also try again with Crispin’s The Moving Toyshop as I started it but just couldn’t get into it, yet many people say it’s excellent. Perhaps I just wasn’t in the right mood at the time.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Phew I feel a lot better I’m not the only one who can’t their first Christie! The Tiger in the Smoke is probably my favourite Allingham novel, but like you not an author I have ever really gotten into. Heyer can be a lot of fun. Not known for her originality but she writes her characters well and has a good writing style. Penhallow though really surprised me, as it tends to deviate (in a good way) from what I had expected of her as a writer. Glad you also enjoyed Scales of Justice. Mood is definitely important when it comes to reading, as I had to give up on a book last year because I wasn’t in the right mood for that sort of content.


  5. No worries, Kate. I have no problem with you not remembering your first Christie . . . although it does suggest either heavy drug use, inbred family issues or a strong personal association with pygmy goats.

    I am more concerned about your continued disparagement of Miss Pym Disposes, but as Realthog firmly and appropriately put you in your place – girl, you’re SUPPOSED to think badly of Miss P. – I won’t say another word.

    Finally, I want to thank you. I really had no idea how to approach the theme next week. You’ve given me an idea I’m eager to work on (basically, your own idea, done Bradley-style!)

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Great list! It amazed me that even though you found Presidents Lodgings a bit of a dud you still went on to read 11 Innes books to give it a fair trial! That’s dedication. In regards to Sayers I read Nine Taylors first, (which is actually still the only Sayers book I have read), and liked it but found it tough going so haven’t returned yet. I wanted to try Have His Carcass next, which after reading the first line has already hooked me, but you were saying it’s good to go in order?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well I think I procured quite a few from a charity shop in one go, so once I got them I kind of thought I might as well give them a go. With the Vane/Wimsey novels, I think because the Vane/Wimsey relationship is so fundamental to them it helps to start from the beginning and watch it progress and develop. But if the puzzle is more important to you than this might be less of an issue, as out of the four HHC is the most puzzle focused.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Thanks for this entertaining post. May I ask which Innes novels you have read, apart from the two you mention above and Lord Mullion’s Secret? I admit that his style is not to everyone’s taste, but some of his books are much better than others and you may have had the bad luck to begin with a few too many of the weaker ones.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Glad you enjoyed the post. The other Innes books I have read are From London Far, Lament for a Maker, Appleby at Allington, A Night of Errors, Appleby on Ararat, The Daffodil Affair, The Crabtree Affair and There Came Both Mist and Snow.


      • Thanks. As I suspected, most of these don’t show Innes at his best: Appleby on Ararat, in particular, is a notorious failure, and The Daffodil Affair is for devotees only. If you ever feel like trying him again, I recommend Appleby’s End and A Private View (which was renamed One-Man Show by its US publishers).

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