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Golden Age Mystery Recommendations

One thing which I have loved consistently for many years now are Golden Age murder mysteries. I read these as often as I can, and enjoy nothing more than discovering new-to-me authors who wrote in this genre, primarily during the 1920s and 1930s. I have decided to collect together ten of my favourites (and also not to include too much Agatha Christie, even though I easily could have!). I would highly recommend these books whether you are already a superfan of this genre, like me, or whether you are looking to dip your toe in. I hope you find something here which keeps you guessing!

  1. A Blunt Instrument by Georgette Heyer (1938)

‘Who would kill the perfect gentleman?

When Ernest Fletcher is found bludgeoned to death in his study, everyone is shocked and mystified: Ernest was well liked and respected, so who would have a motive for killing him? Inspectors of Scotland Yard felt it was an unlikely crime for the London suburbs: a perfectly respectable chap at home with his head bashed in. It seems the real Fletcher was far from the gentleman he pretended to be. There is, in fact, no shortage of people who wanted him dead.

Superintendent Hannasyde and Sergeant Hemingway, with consummate skill, uncover one dirty little secret after another, and with them, a host of people who all have reasons for wanting Fletcher dead. Who tiptoed into the study to do the deed? The rather nefarious nephew Neville? A neighbor’s wandering wife? A fat man in a bowler hat?

The mystery’s key was a blunt instrument–a weapon that the police could not find… and that the murderer can to use once more. Then, a second murder is committed, with striking similarities to the first, giving a grotesque twist to a very unusual case, and the inspectors realize they are up against a killer on a mission…’

2. The Secret Adversary by Agatha Christie (1922)

‘Tommy Beresford and Prudence ‘Tuppence’ Cowley are young, in love… and flat broke. Just after Great War, there are few jobs available and the couple are desperately short of money. Restless for excitement, they decide to embark on a daring business scheme: Young Adventurers Ltd.—”willing to do anything, go anywhere.” Hiring themselves out proves to be a smart move for the couple. In their first assignment for the mysterious Mr. Whittingtont, all Tuppence has to do in their first job is take an all-expense paid trip to Paris and pose as an American named Jane Finn. But with the assignment comes a bribe to keep quiet, a threat to her life, and the disappearance of her new employer. Now their newest job are playing detective.

Where is the real Jane Finn? The mere mention of her name produces a very strange reaction all over London. So strange, in fact, that they decided to find this mysterious missing lady. She has been missing for five years. And neither her body nor the secret documents she was carrying have ever been found. Now post-war England’s economic recovery depends on finding her and getting the papers back. But he two young working undercover for the British ministry know only that her name and the only photo of her is in the hands of her rich American cousin. It isn’t long before they find themselves plunged into more danger than they ever could have imagined—a danger that could put an abrupt end to their business… and their lives.’

3. The Crime at Black Dudley by Margery Allingham (1929)

‘A house party is under way at the remote mansion of Black Dudley, and among the guests are some very shady characters. As they playfully recreate the ritual of the Black Dudley Dagger, someone dies. Pathologist George Abbershaw suspects foul play, and when a vital item is mislaid, a gang of crooks hold the guests hostage. Will they escape the house – what did happen to the Colonel – and just who is the mysterious Mr Campion? Neither the story nor Albert Campion is quite as vapid and slow as you might expect…’

4. Brat Farrar by Josephine Tey (1949)

‘In this tale of mystery and suspense, a stranger enters the inner sanctum of the Ashby family posing as Patrick Ashby, the heir to the family’s sizable fortune. The stranger, Brat Farrar, has been carefully coached on Patrick’s mannerism’s, appearance, and every significant detail of Patrick’s early life, up to his thirteenth year when he disappeared and was thought to have drowned himself. It seems as if Brat is going to pull off this most incredible deception until old secrets emerge that jeopardize the imposter’s plan and his life.’

5. While She Sleeps by Ethel Lina White (1940)

‘This novel is a classic mystery written by Ethel Lina White, one of the best known crime writers in Britain and the USA during the 1930s and ’40s. Her novels today keep delighting the lovers of the gendre with interesting plots which conquered the likes of Alfred Hitchcock, whose film The Lady Vanishes (1938), was based on her novel The Wheel Spins.

In this novel, Miss Loveapple has always prided herself on her extraordinary good luck. But her luck takes a turn for the worse when she is marked out as a killer’s victim…’

6. The Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie (1930)

The Murder at the Vicarage is the first of Christie’s Miss Marple books, and was first published in 1930. Oddly, there isn’t much of the lady herself here; rather, she is a character who exists largely on the periphery, and the whole is narrated by a vicar. Regardless, this is a fantastic murder mystery, and parts of it are really quite amusing and witty. My favourite line in the whole is as follows: ‘His poems have no capital letters in them, which is, I believe, the essence of modernity’. All of the twists and turns are so very clever, and renders The Murder at the Vicarage rather a fantastic reading experience.

7. A Speedy Death by Gladys Mitchell (1929) – my full review can be found here

‘Alastair Bing’s guests gather around his dining table at Chaynings, a charming country manor. But one seat, belonging to the legendary explorer Everard Mountjoy, remains empty. When the other guests search the house, a body is discovered in a bath, drowned. The body is that of a woman, but could the corpse in fact be Mountjoy? A peculiar and sinister sequence of events has only just begun…


This is Gladys Mitchell’s first book and it marks the entrance of the inimitable Mrs Beatrice Adela Lestrange Bradley, psychoanalyst and unorthodox amateur sleuth, into the world of detective fiction. But instead of leading the police to the murderer, she begins as their chief suspect.’

8. The Case of the Gilded Fly by Edmund Crispin (1944) – my full review can be found here

‘Yseut Haskell, a pretty but spiteful young actress with a talent for destroying men’s lives, is found dead in a college room just metres from the office of unconventional Oxford don and amateur detective, Gervase Fen. The victim is found wearing an unusual ring, a reproduction of a piece in the British Museum featuring a gold gilded fly but does this shed any light on her murder? As they delve deeper into Yseut’s unhappy life the police soon realise that anyone who knew her would have shot her, but can Fen discover who could have shot her?

Erudite, eccentric and entirely delightful – Before Morse, Oxford’s murders were solved by Gervase Fen, the most unpredictable detective in classic crime fiction.’

9. Whose Body? by Dorothy L. Sayers (1923)

‘The stark naked body was lying in the tub. Not unusual for a proper bath, but highly irregular for murder — especially with a pair of gold pince-nez deliberately perched before the sightless eyes. What’s more, the face appeared to have been shaved after death. The police assumed that the victim was a prominent financier, but Lord Peter Wimsey, who dabbled in mystery detection as a hobby, knew better. In this, his first murder case, Lord Peter untangles the ghastly mystery of the corpse in the bath.’

10. Mystery in White by J. Jefferson Farjeon (1937)

‘On Christmas Eve, heavy snowfall brings a train to a halt near the village of Hemmersby. Several passengers take shelter in a deserted country house, where the fire has been lit and the table laid for tea – but no one is at home.

Trapped together for Christmas, the passengers are seeking to unravel the secrets of the empty house when a murderer strikes in their midst.

This classic Christmas mystery is republished for the first time since the 1930s, with an introduction by the award-winning crime writer Martin Edwards.’

Which are your favourite Golden Age mysteries? Have you read any of these? If you have any recommendations within the genre, I would love to hear them!

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One From the Archive: ‘The Devil at Saxon Wall’ and ‘Here Comes a Chopper’ by Gladys Mitchell ****

First published in May 2014.

The Devil at Saxon Wall and Here Comes a Chopper, published in 1935 and 1946 respectively,are two more of Gladys Mitchell’s Mrs Bradley mysteries which have been recently republished by Vintage.

In The Devil at Saxon Wall, Hannibal Jones, a friend of part-time detective and psychoanalyst Beatrice Adela Lestrange Bradley, travels to the ‘perfect rural retreat’ of Saxon Wall in Hampshire, in order to focus upon his writing.  He becomes quickly interested in the mystery which surrounds local Neot House, in which a young couple died after their first child was born.

The second thread of the story comes when a man is found bludgeoned to death after ‘disagreements between the villagers and their vicar grow more malevolent’.  Throughout, Mitchell focuses upon different characters – here, the book opens with Constance, a resident of Neot House, who has been ‘royally happy’ since her marriage to Hanley Middleton.  The third person perspective which has been used throughout suits the story, and Mitchell’s writing feels rather thoughtful.  She continually considers events from more than one perspective, which makes the reader feel as though she is a wonder at her craft.  The plot in The Devil at Saxon Wall is clever, and whilst the book is quite a light read, it is sure to be a great holiday companion, whose plot will linger in the mind for a long time after the last page has been read.

Here Comes a Chopper is, predictably, named after the rhyme.  Its plot begins when a pair of lost ramblers – Roger Hoskyn and Dorothy Woodcote – stop at a country house: ‘The sun had almost set, and it occurred to both the walkers that the common was desolate and that they were becoming uncomfortably hungry’.  They are surprised when they are invited in to dinner with little hesitation.  Their host, ‘the superstitious lady of the house’, has invited them ‘as a necessity… to avoid thirteen guests sitting down to dinner’.

The thirteenth guest, however, does not turn up.  His headless body is found in woodland the following day.  As with all of the other Mrs Bradley novels, this is when Beatrice Bradley comes to the forefront of the novel, intent as she is upon catching the murderer.  The story in Here Comes a Chopper is clever, and it has been both written well and considered marvellously.  Mitchell certainly deserves as wide a readership as Dorothy L. Sayers and Agatha Christie, her contemporaries, already enjoy.  It is with high hopes that these Vintage reprints – and the promise of many other Mrs Bradley mysteries forming part of their print-on-demand service – will make her a household name once more.

Purchase from The Book Depository

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One From the Archive: ‘Speedy Death’ by Gladys Mitchell ****

Gladys Mitchell, although she has somewhat fallen by the wayside in recent decades, was one of the ‘Big Three’ female crime writers of the ‘golden age’, alongside Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers.  She was even the recipient of the Crime Writers’ Association Silver Dagger in 1976.  Beatrice Adela Lestrange Bradley, ‘the most gloriously unorthodox female detective’ in the golden age of crime fiction is introduced in the first of Mitchell’s Mrs Bradley mysteries, Speedy Death, which was first published in 1929.  Sixty six novels in total were penned in which she appears as protagonist.  Vintage have republished four of her Mrs Bradley novels – the others are The Longer BodiesDevil at Saxon Wall and Here Comes a Chopper – and have sixteen of her other titles available via their print-on-demand service.

Speedy Death opens with a young woman, Dorothy Clark, being chastised by her brother because she has appeared at the country house, to which many have been invited, on a far later train than she originally specified: ‘Our brother in the front row has been trying to get through to Paddington to find out whether you’d been rendered dead in the buffet through eating one of their ham sandwiches’, he tells her. The host of the dinner is one Alastair Bing, whose son, Garde, is Dorothy’s fiance.  Mrs Bradley, whom Mitchell describes as being ‘dry without being shrivelled, and birdlike without being pretty’, is also a guest at this party.

The main thread of the story comes to the forefront of the novel when, during a dinner at Chaynings, the ‘charming country manor’, one of the guests – much-revered explorer Everard Mountjoy, who is engaged to Garde’s sister Eleanor – fails to turn up.  Whilst searching around the manor for him, the other guests discover the body of an unknown woman in a bathtub.  It is believed, upon further investigation, that Mountjoy was actually a woman who was masquerading as a man.  The two men who discover this fact keep it from the rest of the party, and merely tell them that ‘Mountjoy was dead before any of us came down to dinner this evening’.  Almost everyone present at Chaynings takes it upon themselves to try and solve what is believed to be the murder – rather than the accidental death – of the woman in the bath; a technique which holds intrigue.

The case is an interesting one, and holds surprises from beginning to end.  Mitchell’s writing is consistently good, and particularly shines when one regards the conversational patterns which she has crafted throughout.  Her writing is shrewd, intelligent, interesting, and really rather funny.  Speedy Death is so well paced, and is not at all a predictable murder mystery.  Mitchell has such skill as a novelist, and I for one am so glad that Vintage are reprinting some of her work.  Fans of Agatha Christie and Josephine Tey are sure to love her.

Purchase from The Book Depository

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One From the Archive: ‘The Longer Bodies’ by Gladys Mitchell ***

First published in May 2014.

The Longer Bodies, first published in 1930,is the second of Gladys Mitchell’s Mrs Bradley novels to be published by Vintage.  Mitchell, a contemporary of Dorothy L. Sayers and Agatha Christie, was an incredibly prolific crime author, publishing one book each year, and bringing her total of Mrs Bradley novels to over sixty. 

One of the protagonists of The Longer Bodies is Great Aunt Matilda Puddequet, who is ‘enormously wealthy’ and ‘enormously mean’.  Mitchell describes her as ‘a very old lady, parrot-beaked, shrill-voiced, and imperious’, who will happily hold a grudge for decades.  In effect, she is the catalyst who brings the rest of the characters together, deciding to summon her grand-nephews ‘to perform in a games tournament in order to secure their inheritance’.

The Yeomonds are the first family whom we meet in this respect.  Francis, Malpas and Hilary are pitted against one another to ‘win’ the inheritance, and the boys are only interested in doing so in the hope that they might beat their cousins.  The father of the three Yeomond boys, Godfrey, who believes Great Aunt Matilda to be a ‘vinegar-tongued old hag’, says this of her when he learns of her proposed tournament: ‘The only thing she seems inclined to give away without stint… is unasked for advice’.  He tells the boys: ‘Of course, the idea itself is absurd, but then, what are the old for, if not to impose their absurd ideas on the young?’

As one might expect, the family rivalry between the different branches of Great Aunt Puddequet’s family abounds.  A second layer of the story is introduced when something ‘queer’ about the house begins to make itself known, causing a few of the young characters to begin to worry.  The novel’s crime comes when a man named Jacob Hobson goes missing from the local village, and is reported to have fallen into the lake on Great Aunt Puddequet’s estate.  When marks of murder are found upon his body, Mrs Beatrice Adela Lestrange Bradley, a part-time detective and psychoanalyst, is asked to find his killer.

The story follows the same witty and acerbic pattern which is introduced with Godfrey, and the entirety of The Longer Bodies is filled with marvellously memorable characters in consequence.  Mitchell’s writing is intelligent, and her plot is crafted meticulously.  The novel is very of its time – we have ‘talkies’, mention of one cousin being in disgrace for running away to join the Bloomsbury set, and such language as ‘jolly good!’ and ‘splendid’.  Whilst this novel is not as gripping or as intriguing as the story within Speedy Death, the first of the Mrs Bradley mysteries, The Longer Bodies is sure to delight any fans of Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers, and Mitchell’s work comes highly recommended.

Purchase from The Book Depository

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‘The Devil at Saxon Wall’ and ‘Here Comes a Chopper’ by Gladys Mitchell ****

‘The Devil at Saxon Wall’ by Gladys Mitchell (Vintage)

The Devil at Saxon Wall and Here Comes a Chopper, published in 1935 and 1946 respectively,are two more of Gladys Mitchell’s Mrs Bradley mysteries which have been recently republished by Vintage.

In The Devil at Saxon Wall, Hannibal Jones, a friend of part-time detective and psychoanalyst Beatrice Adela Lestrange Bradley, travels to the ‘perfect rural retreat’ of Saxon Wall in Hampshire, in order to focus upon his writing.  He becomes quickly interested in the mystery which surrounds local Neot House, in which a young couple died after their first child was born.

The second thread of the story comes when a man is found bludgeoned to death after ‘disagreements between the villagers and their vicar grow more malevolent’.  Throughout, Mitchell focuses upon different characters – here, the book opens with Constance, a resident of Neot House, who has been ‘royally happy’ since her marriage to Hanley Middleton.  The third person perspective which has been used throughout suits the story, and Mitchell’s writing feels rather thoughtful.  She continually considers events from more than one perspective, which makes the reader feel as though she is a wonder at her craft.  The plot in The Devil at Saxon Wall is clever, and whilst the book is quite a light read, it is sure to be a great holiday companion, whose plot will linger in the mind for a long time after the last page has been read.

‘Here Comes a Chopper’ by Gladys Mitchell (Vintage)

Here Comes a Chopper is, predictably, named after the rhyme.  Its plot begins when a pair of lost ramblers – Roger Hoskyn and Dorothy Woodcote – stop at a country house: ‘The sun had almost set, and it occurred to both the walkers that the common was desolate and that they were becoming uncomfortably hungry’.  They are surprised when they are invited in to dinner with little hesitation.  Their host, ‘the superstitious lady of the house’, has invited them ‘as a necessity… to avoid thirteen guests sitting down to dinner’.

The thirteenth guest, however, does not turn up.  His headless body is found in woodland the following day.  As with all of the other Mrs Bradley novels, this is when Beatrice Bradley comes to the forefront of the novel, intent as she is upon catching the murderer.  The story in Here Comes a Chopper is clever, and it has been both written well and considered marvellously.  Mitchell certainly deserves as wide a readership as Dorothy L. Sayers and Agatha Christie, her contemporaries, already enjoy.  It is with high hopes that these Vintage reprints – and the promise of many other Mrs Bradley mysteries forming part of their print-on-demand service – will make her a household name once more.

Purchase from The Book Depository

1

‘The Longer Bodies’ by Gladys Mitchell ***

‘The Longer Bodies’ by Gladys Mitchell (Vintage)

The Longer Bodies, first published in 1930,is the second of Gladys Mitchell’s Mrs Bradley novels to be published by Vintage.  Mitchell, a contemporary of Dorothy L. Sayers and Agatha Christie, was an incredibly prolific crime author, publishing one book each year, and bringing her total of Mrs Bradley novels to over sixty.

One of the protagonists of The Longer Bodies is Great Aunt Matilda Puddequet, who is ‘enormously wealthy’ and ‘enormously mean’.  Mitchell describes her as ‘a very old lady, parrot-beaked, shrill-voiced, and imperious’, who will happily hold a grudge for decades.  In effect, she is the catalyst who brings the rest of the characters together, deciding to summon her grand-nephews ‘to perform in a games tournament in order to secure their inheritance’.

The Yeomonds are the first family whom we meet in this respect.  Francis, Malpas and Hilary are pitted against one another to ‘win’ the inheritance, and the boys are only interested in doing so in the hope that they might beat their cousins.  The father of the three Yeomond boys, Godfrey, who believes Great Aunt Matilda to be a ‘vinegar-tongued old hag’, says this of her when he learns of her proposed tournament: ‘The only thing she seems inclined to give away without stint… is unasked for advice’.  He tells the boys: ‘Of course, the idea itself is absurd, but then, what are the old for, if not to impose their absurd ideas on the young?’

As one might expect, the family rivalry between the different branches of Great Aunt Puddequet’s family abounds.  A second layer of the story is introduced when something ‘queer’ about the house begins to make itself known, causing a few of the young characters to begin to worry.  The novel’s crime comes when a man named Jacob Hobson goes missing from the local village, and is reported to have fallen into the lake on Great Aunt Puddequet’s estate.  When marks of murder are found upon his body, Mrs Beatrice Adela Lestrange Bradley, a part-time detective and psychoanalyst, is asked to find his killer.

The story follows the same witty and acerbic pattern which is introduced with Godfrey, and the entirety of The Longer Bodies is filled with marvellously memorable characters in consequence.  Mitchell’s writing is intelligent, and her plot is crafted meticulously.  The novel is very of its time – we have ‘talkies’, mention of one cousin being in disgrace for running away to join the Bloomsbury set, and such language as ‘jolly good!’ and ‘splendid’.  Whilst this novel is not as gripping or as intriguing as the story within Speedy Death, the first of the Mrs Bradley mysteries, The Longer Bodies is sure to delight any fans of Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers, and Mitchell’s work comes highly recommended.

Purchase from The Book Depository

0

‘Speedy Death’ by Gladys Mitchell ****

‘Speedy Death’ by Gladys Mitchell (Vintage)

Gladys Mitchell, although she has somewhat fallen by the wayside in recent decades, was one of the ‘Big Three’ female crime writers of the ‘golden age’, alongside Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers.  She was even the recipient of the Crime Writers’ Association Silver Dagger in 1976.  Beatrice Adela Lestrange Bradley, ‘the most gloriously unorthodox female detective’ in the golden age of crime fiction is introduced in the first of Mitchell’s Mrs Bradley mysteries, Speedy Death, which was first published in 1929.  Sixty six novels in total were penned in which she appears as protagonist.  Vintage have republished four of her Mrs Bradley novels – the others are The Longer Bodies, Devil at Saxon Wall and Here Comes a Chopper – and have sixteen of her other titles available via their print-on-demand service.

Speedy Death opens with a young woman, Dorothy Clark, being chastised by her brother because she has appeared at the country house, to which many have been invited, on a far later train than she originally specified: ‘Our brother in the front row has been trying to get through to Paddington to find out whether you’d been rendered dead in the buffet through eating one of their ham sandwiches’, he tells her. The host of the dinner is one Alastair Bing, whose son, Garde, is Dorothy’s fiance.  Mrs Bradley, whom Mitchell describes as being ‘dry without being shrivelled, and birdlike without being pretty’, is also a guest at this party.

The main thread of the story comes to the forefront of the novel when, during a dinner at Chaynings, the ‘charming country manor’, one of the guests – much-revered explorer Everard Mountjoy, who is engaged to Garde’s sister Eleanor – fails to turn up.  Whilst searching around the manor for him, the other guests discover the body of an unknown woman in a bathtub.  It is believed, upon further investigation, that Mountjoy was actually a woman who was masquerading as a man.  The two men who discover this fact keep it from the rest of the party, and merely tell them that ‘Mountjoy was dead before any of us came down to dinner this evening’.  Almost everyone present at Chaynings takes it upon themselves to try and solve what is believed to be the murder – rather than the accidental death – of the woman in the bath; a technique which holds intrigue.

The case is an interesting one, and holds surprises from beginning to end.  Mitchell’s writing is consistently good, and particularly shines when one regards the conversational patterns which she has crafted throughout.  Her writing is shrewd, intelligent, interesting, and really rather funny.  Speedy Death is so well paced, and is not at all a predictable murder mystery.  Mitchell has such skill as a novelist, and I for one am so glad that Vintage are reprinting some of her work.  Fans of Agatha Christie and Josephine Tey are sure to love her.

Purchase from The Book Depository