British Library Crime Classics Series: 50th publication, Top 5 Recommendations and More…

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.

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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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18 Responses to British Library Crime Classics Series: 50th publication, Top 5 Recommendations and More…

  1. Guy Savage says:

    I only voted in the first one as I haven’t read enough of the titles in the other categories.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Guy Savage says:

    Went back and voted in group 4 too on second thoughts

    Liked by 1 person

  3. TomCat says:

    I voted in all groups, but only selected three titles in the last group. The other groups received one or two votes each. There are more titles from the British Library than I thought.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Bev Hankins says:

    Only voted where I had read any. Need to purchase and read more of these!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. JJ says:

    Nice idea, this; though I fail to see anything that challenges Poisoned Chocolates Case for the best individual title I’m curious to see what the top 10 will be. There’s a good range of stuff in this series, for the seasoned reader as much as the newcomer, and having something like this to get us to compare their relative merits is very well-timed. Got my votes in, looking forward to the results.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Fascinating. The very broad range of reactions to individual titles, even among very well-read GA fans, never fails to interest me. I’ll avoid nailing my colours to the mast specifically, but certainly my top five would contain at least two of yours.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I haven’t read nearly enough of any of your groupings to vote…and it’s nigh on impossible to get most of these books in Oz for anything approaching a reasonable price. The local library system seems to have a few though so all is not lost

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah I can imagine getting these books in Australia must be very hard. Shame there isn’t an Australian publishing company which could print them over there, in the same way that Poison Pen Press do in America.

      Like

  8. JFW says:

    I only could vote in three out of the five sets… And like JJ I can’t quite see any title that could outstrip ‘Poisoned Chocolates Case’. But I’m very much looking forward to the release of ‘Foreign Bodies’.

    Would you recommend Brandon’s ‘Scream in Soho’ to me? It seems to me to be more of a thriller than a mystery…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah definitely looking forward to FB. It’s been a while since I read SIS. I remember really enjoying it, but it might not be your sort of mystery given its, as you say, thriller tendencies. I expect PCC to be in the Top 10, though where in that top 10 I’m not sure. I imagine there will be some surprises.

      Like

  9. Jacquie says:

    I love this series and would love every one (sometimes for the covers alone!) Thank you for the recommendations as it’s sometimes hard to choose. The only one in your top 5 that I’ve read is the “Poisoned Chocolates Case” and that is an all-time favorite of mine. There aren’t many mysteries I plan on re-reading but that one is a stand-out.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Pingback: Another Great Installment in the British Library Crime Classics Series: The Long Arm of the Law (2017) ed. Martin Edwards | crossexaminingcrime

  11. Pingback: Your Favourite British Library Crime Classics: Round 1 | crossexaminingcrime

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