British Crime Classics



Having been reading through a backlog of British Crime Classics (just finished ‘Death Makes a Prophet’ by John Bude, which I quite enjoyed without feeling inspired to review) I have got to thinking about how many of them that I’ve read so far, that I would ever consider rereading. And I think that the number would be very few.

With the exception of Anthony Berkeley’s The Poisoned Chocolates Case, which I already owned and love, I might reread Antidote to Venom by Freeman Wills Croft, possibly Death of Anton by Alan Melville (though not Quick Curtain by the same author) and possibly The Notting Hill Mystery by Charles Warren Adam, which has a particular old fashioned style and multiple point of view approach which appeals to me (I love Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone so much, that I would swap it for all the Dickens ever written, including the alternate universe finished version of Edwin Drood in which it turns out it was all an opium dream).

So, I’ve mildly enjoyed most of the books (except the Mavis Doriel Hay’s, all rather poor in my opinion) and am generally pleased that they are in print (especially as a vast number of people will disagree with me about the quality – which is as it should be. Dissension is the spice of life (well, unless it kills you)). But if I’d read almost any of them as my first introduction to classic crime, I’m fairly sure I wouldn’t be such a fan as I am now. Whereas, I have reread almost all of Agatha Christie, several Margery Allinghams, all of Cyril Hare and Edmund Crispin (with the exception of Glimpses of the Moon) and a couple of John Dickson Carrs, among others. As for Dorothy L Sayers – whose books were my first introduction to detection, in my mother’s slightly scuffed omnibus edition which sat next to a John Wyndham omnibus on the shelf and is therefore mixed up obscurely in my love of sci-fi as well – I reread all of them every few years, and enjoy something different in them every time.

So I’m still going to persevere with the series, in hopes of finding a neglected author that I’ll love as much as those. But I was wondering, are there any books (in any genre) that you have found in some way excellent but would not reread? And which authors have dragged you into a genre so completely that you’ve waded through a fair amount of meh, just to find that ‘wow!’ again?


4 thoughts on “British Crime Classics

  1. While I am immesnely grateful for the chance to read some of these authors — I always say I’d rather have a book available and know I don’t like it than to spend decades wondering if I might’ve loved it — I so agree that very few actual classics have emerged from the British Library Crime Classics. I’m personally delighted to make the acquaintance of Crofts, and the Berkeley is one for the ages but elsewhere — Sprigg, Burton, Melville (not read QC yet) — there’s a lot of fun but as yet nothing I’d call a stone cold classic.

    Still, some great-sounding titles are coming up, and they’re publishing a couple of E.C.R. Lorac titles next year, about which I’m quite excited even if she’s unlikely to be the Next Christie we all want. And as the range continues to grow in popularity and scope we’re bound to stumble over a few more wonders, I’m sure. And part of me can’t help but wonder if the series would have been as successful as it has if they just pounded out classic after classic: there’s a lot to be said for building your brand through catering to a range of styles and types. Sure, GAD nerds would be in sheer nirvana, but it’s been pretty clear for a while now that no-one really cares what GAD nerd think when it comes to reprints… 😛

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  2. You make a good point about the diversity and it’s extremely probable that for someone out there, the opportunity to read one or more of these has sparked off their own incipient GAD nerdiness – soon to grow and take over their brains until they’re unable to pass a locked room without checking the hinges or a railway carriage without checking under the seats for protruding limbs.
    And the more people who want them, the more unsung authors will need to be dug out from the back of the sofa and given a belated chance to shine.
    E. C. R Lorac, I’ve mixed feelings about. Murder by Matchlight was quite good but Policemen in the Precinct and Death on the Oxford Road were not for me. You may well like her more however.

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    1. Lorac intrigues me on account of how the two I’ve read take a setup just outside the conventional bounds of the genre and run away with it into a form of investigation again just outside the conventional bounds: I have a feeling that she may be more interesting from a genre perspective than outright brilliant. Hopefully she’ll also be brilliant, of course, but someone trying to do something that’s not the usual is always to be appreciated (case in point: Anthony Berkeley).

      Diversity is the key, since not all GAD work is Christie At Her Best, and I think the more people come to realise this the more interest there will be. Certain books, like Death of Anton and Death of an Airman, would act as the perfect introduction to this sort of mystery for someone who has not read them before, and that’s important, too. I love Malice Aforethought, but I’d never give it to someone to convince them GAD is for them…that’s not a gateway book by any means!

      And consider: tasked with bringing back forgotten authors from a long-neglected genre about which there are certain critical misconceptions and not a huge amount of populist awareness or interest, and given the access to the near-endless vaults of the BL and it’s billions of manuscripts…how the hell do you choose where to start?!?!

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  3. I completely agree with you on Anthony Berkeley – he has his ups and downs but he was never afraid to innovate and the Francis Iles books, along the poisoned chocolates case, are a big part of the reason I love the genre.

    As for how I’d choose, well I’d go with the logical approach: close eyes, wave arms in a mystical fashion, stick hand into the nearest pile, grab and hope.

    (I wonder why that isn’t my job?)


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