Confession time. I am not that reliable when it comes to map reading. Primarily due to my tendency to look out the window instead of following where I am on the map. I also, as a child, may have thought Cumbria was below Northumberland. So, yes, geography is not my strong point.
However, that does not stop me from being a big fan of the crime fiction themed maps that Herb Lester Associates have been publishing. Last year I reviewed their Agatha Christie’s England (2021) map and so I was very excited to get the chance to review their latest one. The theme of This Deadly Isle, as you might have twigged, is the Golden Age of Detective fiction and the map includes 51 locations from such mysteries, chosen and described by Martin Edwards.
Brand names, for many, conjure up connotations of high quality, reliability and consistency and I think it is fair to say that the name of Martin Edwards has a similar effect when found on the cover of a book or on an article covering classic crime fiction in some manner. I am sure it must be a compliment to be considered the Heinz or Mr Kipling of the GAD world! I knew I was in for a treat with Martin selecting the locations and books for this map. There is a good smattering of familiar authors such as Christie, Sayers, and Marsh but also plenty of writers who are off the beaten track such as Francis Everton and J. de N. Kennedy. Naturally with such a list I was duty bound to count how many of the mysteries mentioned I had read, (rather than just heard of). Hopefully it won’t shock too many that I had only managed 28! Another fun game to play whilst perusing this map, is deciding which Golden Age detective stories you would pick for the different areas of the map and whether they were the same as Martin’s.
Only being able to pick 51 locations must have been a very difficult task, trying to balance the well-known titles with the more obscure. I think one consequence of the inevitable space restrictions is that areas such as Ireland, Scotland, North of England, and Wales get significantly fewer markers. For example, only one slot is given to the Lake District and surprisingly it did not go to John Bude’s The Lake District Murder (1935)!
However, I think one point to bear in mind was that settings such as Oxford and London were magnets for classic crime authors when picking a setting for their novels. Percent wise there was a much bigger proportion of Golden Age Detective novels set in the South of England, in comparison to other areas of the UK. * So I think the dispersal of markers on the map is also perhaps a reflection of this pre-existing imbalance.
I very much enjoyed Martin’s write ups for each location. As well as finding out details about the mystery in question, he also notes when and how real-life locations were used in the story e.g., such as when two real locations had their names combined to make a fictional one in the book. It was also interesting to learn about authors who bought property in the area their book was set or in the case of Anthony Berkeley he actually bought the house, which is the setting for his mystery, The Second Shot (1930). Another intriguing piece of information was to do with the Bayswater, London setting of Margery Allingham’s Death of a Ghost (1934). Allingham named the central house ‘The Little Venice,’ yet because her book ‘was a critical and commercial success,’ the term ‘The Little Venice’ is ‘now widely used for the surrounding area of waterways and stylish Georgian houses.’
The map’s locations cover private houses, buildings involving the criminal justice system, department stores, political landmarks, key London streets and even royal abodes. The artwork continues to be brilliant and is one of the reasons these products are pleasing to collect. Lots of attention is given to little details, so the map is enjoyable at a visual level as well as on an information level. It is a great gift to self, but also to others who enjoy classic crime fiction.
I am excited to find out what maps Herb Lester Associates produce next, and I have spent some time pondering what crime fiction themed maps I would like see. In terms of geography, I would certainly vote for Ireland or Scotland specific maps, but I also think one for Australia would be great. Not least because it would allow for a mention or two of arguably my favourite Australian author, June Wright, who set several of her books in Melbourne. I then thought about what Golden Age Author specific maps I would like to see. This was a much harder question to answer as the author needs to have produced a significant number of books set in the UK (or another contained country space). Of these books the settings need to include enough information to pinpoint what county, village, town or city they are set in or based on. So for example, I love Delano Ames’ work, but the settings for his Jane and Dagobert series are too wide spread, spanning the UK, North America and several places in Europe. Not ideal for a map.
So to conclude, I pass the baton on to you my readers: What theme would you like to see next for this type of map?
Source: Review Copy (Herb Lester Associates)
* I wrote a blog post partially on this topic a while back called GAD Up North.