In 2014 The British Library published the first of The British Library Crime Classics series, what started life as just a couple of unknown crime tales being reprinted has exploded into a highly successful, highly read and highly sought after series. The aim is simple – ‘Unearthing hidden gems from the Golden Age of crime fiction.’ And now with a sturdy collection of 40 titles (and with more to come) with eye catching covers and plots to make Agatha Christie jealous, The British Library has tapped into a faithful and captive audience.
I can’t talk about these books without talking about the covers – oh my, those delicious covers. They are stunning and suit the era of the books perfectly, not surprising really when you consider the fact that the majority of them are images taken from The National Railway travel posters. What could be more perfect, images from the Golden Age of travel in partnership with tales from the Golden Age of crime fiction. I am a complete sucker for a gorgeous book cover and the crime classics are my among favourite. They’re so eye catching, colourful and strokeable (yes I said strokeable!) They are a booksellers dream, they make the most wonderful displays both on tables and on shelves – and I can say that, I’m a bookseller that has taken great pleasure in showing these books off, both in store and at home – the spines create a wonderful rainbow on my shelf!
These books also have something else that makes them stand out from the crowd and that is the superb introductions by crime fiction expert Martin Edwards.These fascinating and well informed introductions tantalise the reader about the mystery they are about to dive into. They not only offer us a brief look at the book, they provide a snap shot of the era the book was written in setting the mood perfectly for reading and they also tell us about the authors, who are largely unknown. Not only do these introductions make a nice opener to each book, they also act as a lovely closer. I often re-read them after finishing the books.
Martin Edwards also has done an outstanding job with the short story anthologies in this series, as the editor of these collections he has brought together varied, unknown, gripping mysteries. I love that these anthologies have a theme, my favourite has to be ‘Murder At The Manor’. Because to me there is no better setting for a classic mystery than a country manor house. All these collections make for great reading, perfect for dipping in and out of and with two new ones on the horizon – ‘Miraculous Mysteries’ and ‘Continental Crimes’ they add a whole new group of unknown authors to the series and I don’t think it would be the same without these steller anthologies.
I don’t know how it’s decided which book to re-publish, it sounds like a dream job, but I have this great image in my head of a bookish, museum type wandering down endless flights of stairs into an endless basement, picking a tome of a shelf, brushing the dust off and settling down to read at a desk and decided ‘yes – this is the next one’. I know this is probably far away from the truth but I’m keeping that image even if one day I do discover the truth!
I am such a huge fan of this series and I’m not shy in spouting my love of them to whoever will listen. They are wonderful wonderful books, the style of writing is glorious and the plots are varied and ingenious. If you haven’t picked one up yet then you must, I have included my favourite five if you want a little encouragement. Though my favourites are subject to change with new titles appearing soon!
‘The Poisoned Chocolates Case’ Anthony Berkeley – Graham and Joan Bendix have apparently succeeded in making that eighth wonder of the modern world, a happy marriage. And into the middle of it there drops, like a clap of thunder, a box of chocolates.Joan Bendix is killed by a poisoned box of liqueur chocolates that cannot have been intended for her to eat.
I think ‘The Poisoned Chocolates Case’ has to one of, if not the most favourite of mine. What we get with this book is not only a classic form of murder by poison, but we are treated to not one but six amateur sleuths all offering readers different solutions to this perplexing mystery. This is a wonderful, intriguing and entertaining story. With no less that eight solutions offered up in the tale you’ll soon start wanting to work on your own offering, ready to put it to the members of The Crime Circle!
‘Murder Of A Lady’ Anthony Wynne – Duchlan Castle is a gloomy, forbidding place in the Scottish Highlands. Late one night the body of Mary Gregor, sister of the laird of Duchlan, is found in the castle. She has been stabbed to death in her bedroom – but the room is locked from within and the windows are barred. The only tiny clue to the culprit is a silver fish’s scale, left on the floor next to Mary’s body.
I really enjoyed this Scottish mystery. Full of twists and red herrings, it all begins with a body being discovered within a locked room of Duchlan Castle. The plotting of this mystery is fantastic and you never see what’s round the corner. A highly delightful puzzle.
‘The Cheltenham Square Murder’ John Bude – In the seeming tranquility of Regency Square in Cheltenham live the diverse inhabitants of its ten houses. One summer’s evening, the square’s rivalries and allegiances are disrupted by a sudden and unusual death – an arrow to the head, shot through an open window at no. 6
With snippets of neighbourly gossip and grumbles over a tree disagreement, the first chapter of ‘The Cheltenham Square Murder’ is the perfect set up for a murder to disrupt the lives of the residents of Regency Square. When one unlucky neighbour is discovered with an arrow through the head, the suspicion and chatter is rife.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and happily lost a whole Sunday afternoon to it! John Bude is one of my favourite authors in the British Library Crime Classic series. With Cheltenham Square he has created a small pool of suspects all with secrets and potential motives, reminiscent of a claustrophobic country house crime. I had no idea whodunnit and as with all great Golden Age crime this story is full of red herrings, surprises and questions but our hero Inspector Meredith sees through the deceptions and captures the true criminal – hurrah!
‘Calamity in Kent’ John Rowland – In the peaceful seaside town of Broadgate, an impossible crime occurs. The operator of the cliff railway locks the empty carriage one evening; when he returns to work next morning, a dead body is locked inside – a man who has been stabbed in the back.
Jimmy London, plucky journalist, is convalescing at the pleasant, calm seaside town of Broadgate when his morning promenade is interrupted by the operator of the cliff railway stumbling into his path and sputtering that a dead body is inside a locked carriage. The relaxing recovery is soon forgotten as Jimmy sees the discovery as the scoop of a life time.
There’s a great partnership between Jimmy and Inspector Shelley of Scotland Yard, who in true Golden Age crime tradition, do not have confidence in the local constabulary. I always find a locked room mystery enjoyable and this was no exception. I found myself completely swept away with Jimmy’s narrative and I was kept guessing right until the end. A highly enjoyable mystery.
‘Antidote to Venom’ Freeman Wills Crofts – George Surridge, director of the Birmington Zoo, is a man with many worries: his marriage is collapsing; his finances are insecure; and an outbreak of disease threatens the animals in his care. As Surridge’s debts mount and the pressure on him increases, he begins to dream of miracle solutions. But is he cunning enough to turn his dreams into reality – and could he commit the most devious murder in pursuit of his goals?
Of all the British Library Crime Classics that I’ve read, I think this has to be one of my favourites. It’s something a little bit different to your usual Golden Age crime tale, in fact there is no real crime to speak of until half way through the book. The crime, once committed is just pure brilliance and this novel deserves to sit among the most famous of crime novels. Hopefully now in this reprinted state and with it’s perfect cover a new fan base will delight in this fabulous book. I just adored it, it made me want to visit the zoo and it was great company on a wet Sunday afternoon with a cuppa!
‘Scarweather’ by Anthony Rolls – 10/2/17
‘Family Matters’ by Anthony Rolls – 10/3/17
‘Miraculous Mysteries’ – 10/4/17
‘The Incredible Crime’ Lois Austen-Leigh – 10/5/17
‘Continental Crimes’ – 10/6/17
I’m not affiliated with The British Library nor do I have a relationship with any one who works there – I just think what they have done with this series is outstanding and wanted to share my appreciation.