The Detective Club as many of you will know, is one of the many tentacles of the publishers, Harper Collins and was revived in 2015, bringing many classic crime novels back into print, with new introductions and often obscure additional bonus material. This year sees the series reaching its 50th title with Carolyn Wells’ Murder in the Bookshop and having really enjoyed another of their reprints, I decided to share some of my personal favourites.
5 to Try (which I read for the first time through this imprint)
A Voice Like Velvet (1944) by Donald Henderson
This has been my latest foray into this series and I found it to be a really good take on the gentlemen crook novel. Who would ever suspect Ernest Bisham, famous BBC announcer, as the infamous Man in the Mask jewel thief? Characters, comedy, setting, writing style and ending are all top notch. What’s not to love?
Especially recommended for: Fans of inverted mysteries and for those whom characterisation is paramount, as well as those who would love to see inside the world of 1930s BBC radio.
The Leavenworth Case (1878) by Anna Katharine Green
This is a canonical text within the crime writing tradition, with the author having done much for the genre. Yet I am often suspicious of such books – do they live up to their reputations? However Green’s novel certainly does this. It has the classic setting of a man murdered in his own library, with a very suspicious eye being cast over his two nieces…
Especially recommended for: Puzzle fans will find they have plenty to get their teeth into.
Nightmare (1932) by Lynn Brock
I’m not a big fan of grim crime novels, but this one really worked for me: a writer is very much broken down by the psychological torture wrought upon him by his inconsiderate neighbours, along with a few more knocks life decides to give him. Murder of course is the response… As I said in my review Brock makes Francis Iles look tame. Want to find out more? Well you’re just going to have to read it.
Especially recommended for: Fans of Francis Iles work, of protagonists who are writers and for those who like to see the psychological factors behind criminal acts.
The Blackmailers (1867) by Emile Gaboriau
A bank clerk is in quite a pickle in this tale, as circumstances make it seem as those he ran off with a lot of money, but is that necessarily the case? Another important cornerstone in the genre from France and Gaboriau is a dab hand at telling a story.
Especially recommended for: Readers wanting to explore foundational texts within the genre and lovers of 19th century detective fiction.
The Noose (1930) by Philip Macdonald
The Detective Club have been really good at bringing several of Macdonald’s works back into print, as boy are these titles hard to find otherwise! One of the things I love about Macdonald is how he is always prepared to experiment with the genre and try out different approaches and ideas. This title though is my favourite to date and as the name suggests involves Colonel Gethryn trying to save a man from the noose, believing him to be innocent of the murder he has been convicted of.
Especially recommend for: For fans of ‘great detective’ sleuths, as well as those interested in gender dynamics and/or the psychological effect of being wrongfully convicted.
5 to Try (Books I’ve read in different editions, but would definitely recommend trying)
The Case of the Gilded Fly (1944) by Edmund Crispin
Who hasn’t read this classic yet? Well… probably a few, but aside from being a gorgeous edition of the title, this reprint also has an introduction by Douglas G. Greene. As to the plot, our academic sleuth, Gervase Fen, has to solve the murder of an actress on college grounds. The comedy in this story is a treat to encounter, becoming positively Shakespearean at times.
Especially recommended for: Fans of college mysteries, comic crime and locked room mysteries. So it’s catering for a lot of fan bases here.
The Conjure Man Dies (1932) by Rudolph Fisher
This is a book I managed to stumble across in my pre-blog days and when I was still trying to get a handle on what older crime fiction was like, this certainly opened my eyes to how non-conformist it can be. Given the highly complex, baffling and unusual nature of this story I suggest going in knowing nothing and not just because it means I get out of having to write a synopsis…
Especially recommended for: Fans of American mysteries and for readers interested in Afro-American literature. Great if you are looking for something completely different to read.
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (1926) by Agatha Christie
Another well-known title, by someone you may have heard of before… Aside from its famous solution, there is a lot to enjoy in Poirot’s investigation and the surrounding characters. In particular you will see Christie’s early experimentation with a quasi-Miss Marple figure. One of the books I really need to get around to re-reading someday. The Detective Club edition also has the additional pleasure of an introduction by Tony Medawar.
Especially recommend for: Well who wouldn’t you recommend a Christie novel for? (Don’t answer that question…)
The Perfect Crime (1891) by Israel Zangwill
Another pre-blog read, when I had only just begun getting into crime fiction. Of course I was therefore blown away by the solution to this locked room mystery – who knew you could do what that writer did? This reprint as others in the series all go to show how creative and versatile these earlier mysteries were. John Curran has also written the introduction to The Detective Club edition as well.
Especially recommended for: Readers new to earlier and vintage crime fiction, as well as locked room mystery fans – duh!
Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886) by R L Stevenson
This novella, like The Hound of the Baskervilles and Dracula, has certainly lodged itself into popular culture over the last century, in terms of artwork, films and literary allusion etc. But how many have actually read it? Brilliant read, which again I need to re-read!
Especially recommend for: Fans of mysteries with plenty of lashings of gothic atmosphere and tropes.
Three I am looking forward to:
The Shop Window Murders (1930) by Vernon Loder
My appetite for this one has been whetted by Nigel Moss’ article in CADs magazine, so thankfully I don’t have too long to wait for this title, as it is coming out in October. Christmas shopping turns sour for London customers when it turns out that one of the mannequins in a department store window is a corpse…
The Deductions of Colonel Gore (1924) by Lynn Brock
This title is coming out in November (rather than my earlier assertion it was already available). I am intrigued to see what Brock does with a more conventional mystery plot. This story features Colonel Gore, a series character for Brock, who in this story has just returned from Africa, to find one of his old friends may be a killer…
Murder in the Bookshop (1936) by Carolyn Wells
What immediately hooked me with this title is its location. I am a sucker for a bookshop based book, I have to admit. But I can also be extra excited, as this title coming out in November, will also have an introduction by Curtis Evans! The plot revolves around a bibliomaniac and his secretary attempting to steal a rare volume from a bookshop. The secretary is knocked out during this attempt, waking up to find his master very much dead… stabbed in fact. I am so eager to find out what happens next!
So which novels from The Detective Club have you enjoyed?