Yesterday was the fifth Bodies from the Library conference, (seriously can it be 5 already?!) and it was another successful event. But then we expect no less, right?
The opening panel included Jake Kerridge, Moira Redmond and Richard Reynolds and it was entitled: Is the Golden Age Humdrum? The trio covered a wide range of aspects, though centring on the criticisms made by Julian Symons, who used the term humdrum to describe a number of Golden Age authors he didn’t particularly like. The discussion also considered the gender divide when it came to certain vintage authors and their readership. Moira also got asked about which writers wrote the best dressed characters in the golden age and her two selections were Ethel Lina White and Dorothy L Sayers.
Following on from this was Tony Medawar’s The Puppet Master: John Dickson Carr (1906-1977) and his talk should definitely win the prize for best power point slides. Trying to talk about Carr’s extensive career is no mean feat in 30 minutes, but Tony was more than up for the challenge, covering more well-known information, alongside more obscure details about his life and work. Perhaps the most exciting piece of news was the fact that Bodies from the Library 3, which is being released next year, will be including a previously unpublished Carr novella.
Before our first break of the day, we had Sarah Ward’s talk: City and the Countryside in E. C. R. Lorac’s Crime Novels. Sarah’s talk was fair in addressing both the strengths and weaknesses of Lorac’s work and I agree that the settings and character relations, are two of the best features of Lorac’s stories. The historical and social context was also brought into the discussion, which I equally enjoyed listening to.
After the break John Curran treated us to his talk: Two (Undeservedly) Forgotten Crime Club Authors. This was certainly the most cryptic talk title, but I can reveal that two writers under discussion were Nigel Fitzgerald and D. M. Devine. I’ve heard of both of these authors prior to the conference and even seen some of their books in charity shops from time to time. But I’ve never thought to give them a go, perhaps because the covers had not given me the impression they would be my sort of thing. However, if John likes them, then they must be worth a go! Fitzgerald was an Irish writer, who mysteriously ended his days in Wairarapa, New Zealand. He had two series characters; an amateur sleuth and actor named Alan Russell and a professional called Superintendent Duffy. His 12 novels are mostly set in Ireland, often with village settings. They often include macabre murder methods and he even wrote two impossible crime novels: The Student Body (1958) and Suffer a Witch (1958), the latter involving a disappearance from a watched post office. I’m going to avoid the non-series novel, This Won’t Hurt You (1959), a dentist set mystery. This is based on John’s comments that it has the worst murder method – namely an injection into the jaw, (possibly of formaldehyde, can’t quite remember), which then dissolves the person’s jaw whilst they’re still alive. Yes, the audience did collectively groan at this point in horror… However, I am tempted to try some of Fitzgerald’s other titles, including Ghost in the Making (1960), The Candles are All Out (1960), The House is Falling (1955) and Black Welcome (1961); the latter 3 all being John’s favourites, (can’t be a bad place to start after all). Moving on to Devine, he was a Scottish writer who worked at the University of St. Andrew and I enjoyed hearing about his entry into the crime writing world; taking part in a mystery novel writing competition only eligible for dons, despite only being a secretary, which led to him losing first prize when the truth emerged. A number of his mysteries do have academic backgrounds and Arcturus Crime Classics have reprinted both My Brother’s Killer (1961) and The Sleeping Tiger (1968), so they are reasonably easy to procure.
Next up was The Max Carrados Tales of Ernest Bramah; a talk which was given by Dolores Gordon-Smith. Max Carrados is not a sleuth I am overly fond of, but listening to Dolores is always a delight. It was particularly interesting to hear of Dolores’ own sleuthing into the possible origins of the character’s surname, Carrados, which I never realised was such a rare name at the time.
Post lunch we experienced the radio play, this time being Sweet Death by Christianna Brand. Unlike in previous years, the play was actually performed by a live cast, which I felt really brought the story to life and I hope this is an approach they will use again.
Hot on the heels of the play was Christine Poulson’s talk, Murder in Mind: The Crime Novels of Helen McCloy. Christine focused on McCloy’s earlier works, tantalising us with the ingenious plots and murder method contained therein. I’ve been sitting on the fence when it comes to McCloy, with my last read by this author being somewhat lukewarm. However, I feel Christine’s talk has convinced me to give McCloy another chance, so I am going to keep my eyes peeled for Dance of Death (1938), Cue for Murder (1946) and The Deadly Truth (1943), as their plots sounded the most unusual.
The 8th session of the day starred Julius Green and John Curran, whose talk was entitled: Agatha Christie: Playwright. Given the scope and range of Christie’s plays, this talk was more selective in what it chose to talk about, looking more at how Christie’s talents have been overlooked in this arena, rather than in giving a chronological summation of them. In particular the various alternative endings for the certain plays were also discussed and it was fascinating to consider how experimental Christie could be with her plays.
For the next talk of the day, I think I would be a little too biased to give any opinions on its potential merits, as this was the talk I was giving: Solving Crimes Down Under: June Wright (1919-2012). But I really enjoyed giving the talk and I can safely say that no mouldy fruit was thrown in my direction and nor did I run over my time limit, (so Mike didn’t need to grab his vaudeville hook)!
After the final break of the conference, we had Martin Edwards and Christine Poulson in conversation with their talk: Cyril Hare: Master of the English Murder. I felt these two worked really well together as a speaking duo and like Tony Medawar they were able to provide a talk which catered to audience members who were new or familiar with Hare’s work. I was especially interested to hear how Tragedy at Law (1942), was a title Michael Gilbert read whilst imprisoned in an Italian POW camp; a read which convinced him to continue with crime writing after the war. I also never knew how the death of Cyril Hare influenced P. D. James having her first novel taken on by the publishers, Faber.
Following on from this were Jim Noy and Daniel Curtis, who presented The Ten Types of Impossible Crime and I am sure they probably broke conference records in discussing 41 stories, within 30 minutes! It was an impressive tour de force and I am sure they could probably turn it into some kind of Britain’s Got Talent act. Much furious scribbling took place during this talk to write down the names of the various titles and authors and I’d like to think some of these might make there way on to my TBR pile.
The conference concluded with a panel called: Ask the Experts. During the day audience members were able to write down their questions and these were then discussed during this session. Questions ranged from titles from favourite authors you wouldn’t recommend and ideal titles for younger readers, to whether there was an American golden age, which golden age authors wrote the most and which Agatha Christie murder method would you use if you wanted to kill someone. In regards to this last question it was interesting to hear that Moira would go for The Murder at the Vicarage (1930), with the duplicitously tight dress, whilst Tony went for The Pale Horse (1961). Conversely Sarah said the method she wouldn’t go for was the one in Sleeping Murder (1976), involving literary recitation post kill. Martin enigmatically said he knew which one he would go for, but that he couldn’t possibly reveal it… Anyone else a little worried? Perhaps the funniest question was written to Moira, asking how well she thought the audience was dressed. Suffice to say she gave the correct answer!
As you can see it was a fantastic and action-packed day and what really made this conference extra special was the opportunity to meet up with old and new friends, especially those founded in the blogosphere. In particular it was extra exciting that Brad at Ah Sweet Mystery blog was able to make it, all the way from California. Now that’s dedication to the genre!
So here’s to Bodies from the Library 2020! (Got to be one surely? – I think a riot might break out if there wasn’t!)