Hanging out with the Detection Club
I recently read The Golden Age of Murder by Martin Edwards, which felt like retreating to a quiet corner at a 1930s cocktail party to hear all the recent gossip. If you like to read (or watch) stories about Hercule Poirot, Father Brown or Lord Peter Wimsey, this book gives you backstory to the writers who created these characters and to the Detection Club in general.
The Detection Club was a group of mystery writers that started getting together for dinner and discussion in 1930. Only a select number was invited to join and they had to undergo a mysterious initiation rite that included, among other things, candles, a skull and an oath:
Do you promise that your detectives shall well and truly detect the crimes presented to them using those wits which it may please you to bestow upon them and not placing reliance on nor making use of Divine Revelation, Feminine Intuition, Mumbo Jumbo, Jiggery-Pokery, Coincidence, or Act of God?
The club is still in existence and Edwards, who is himself a member of the club, is their archivist, so he had unique access to records and people which make the book feel especially intimate.
I loved reading about the era and the way people lived in the 1930s seems so much more glamorous. On the other hand, World War II was hard on England in general and social pressures really took their toll on these writers. The fear that forced people to hide secrets like homosexuality and out-of-wedlock babies was so overwhelming that even Edwards can’t record some histories definitively.
In addition to annual dinner meetings, the Detection Club also published a few books in the “round robin” style. A selection of club members would agree to write a book together and then each took a turn writing one chapter. There were rules to keep the story moving forward, but no one was following a pre-determined outline of how the book would end. When you read one of these, it’s interesting to see the different writing styles of each author.
One of the best parts of Edward’s book is the photos. I’ve read the books of many of these authors, but I never really read about the authors themselves. Sure, I could probably go online and do some research, but it was so nice to just see the photos and learn their histories all in one book.
Even folks who love the mystery stories themselves may not feel the need to read about the people who were writing them, but I would suggest giving The Golden Age of Murder a try. Some of these authors had lives that would rival anything fiction could describe.