This month will see the 50th publication in the British Library Crime Classics series, with their reprinting of Portrait of a Murderer (1934) by Anne Meredith, (penname for Lucy Beatrice Malleson, who is better known under her other penname Anthony Gilbert). For those mystery fans who have been residing in outer Mongolia or the middle of Antarctica and have not come across this reprint series already, here’s what it’s all about.
The British Library began reprinting long forgotten and neglected mystery stories in 2012 when they reprinted Charles Warren Adams’ The Notting Hill Mystery (1865), yet the series really hit its stride when they reprinted Mystery in White (1937) by J. Jefferson Farjeon, which when released in the winter of 2014 sold more copies than paperback editions of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl (2012). It is fair to say this book was a runaway success as out of the 155000 books sold from this series in 2014, 60,000* of those were Farjeon’s Christmas story. Three years on and the series has reprinted novels from many overlooked vintage mystery writers including John Bude, Mavis Doriel Hay, Charles Kingston, Miles Burton and John Rowland.
This is a series I love to buy from as it gives me many chances to try authors new and often unheard of to me, so it’s great to see that it has now reached its 50th milestone. To commemorate this I decided to give a few recommendations of my own, as to which ones in the series to try first. But don’t worry I’ll also be roping in any passing blog reader to share their thoughts as well (see below).
Top 5 lists are always a tricky one for me. Mainly because I am hopeless at sticking at 5, usually hovering around the 15 or 20 mark. So I was quite pleased with myself when I managed to come up with my 5 relatively quickly.
At the top of the pile would be Alan Meville’s Death of Anton (1936). This is my favourite read from Melville to date and is simply wonderful for its choice of unusual setting, its plot and of course it’s wide variety of humour and comedy, ranging from satire to surrealism. Only a very skilled writer could have a vicar at a sausages and mash party, sitting next to a walrus in their story and not make their book seem irritatingly ridiculous.
Next up I would choose The Poisoned Chocolates Case (1929) by Anthony Berkeley, which I think many would agree is a key text from the Golden Age of detective fiction. This story pushes amateur detection to its limits and Berkeley has a great deal of fun with the twists he offers. My third choice would be A Scream in Soho (1940) by John G. Brandon. I’m not usually a fan of more hard boiled milieus, but Brandon creates an engagingly violent mystery of murder and espionage, with a likeable sleuth to follow.
Another title I would recommend is Raymond Postgate’s Verdict of Twelve (1940). Another classic mystery in my opinion, which centres its trial based mystery on the jurors, seeing how their own lives go on to shape their final verdict in a far from pleasant case of child murder. Postgate equally provides a killer twist and I am excited to read his Somebody at the Door (1943), which the British Library will be reprinting later this year. Finally, but not least, my last top 5 recommendation would be Family Matters (1933) by Anthony Rolls, a brilliant comical inverted mystery of sorts, where things go quite awry for our would be murderers.
However, like all recommendation lists this is only my very subjective and biased opinion, so to get a wider consensus on the most popular books from this series I have decided to hold a poll. Given the size of the series, I have decided to divide the poll into 5 groups, with voters being able to select three titles out of each section. Based on these votes I will then compile a final poll of 15 titles, so we can see who will make the top 10, top 5 and of course most importantly of all who will be crowned the most popular book from the British Library Crime Classics series.
On a final note, I should hopefully be reviewing a couple more titles from this series soon, so stay tuned for reviews on The Long Arm of the Law (a short story collection of classic police mysteries edited by Martin Edwards) and Seven Dead (1939) by Farjeon.
*These statistics came from an article in the Independent.