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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: ‘Brat Farrar’ by Josephine Tey ****

This post was first published in January 2014, but fits in nicely with mine and Yamini’s 50 Women Challenge and my swathes of University reading!

I had only read a couple of Josephine Tey’s novels before I started Brat Farrar, but she is an author whom I very much enjoy.  This particular novel was first published in 1949, and is more of a mystery than a murder mystery.  The plot is most interesting:

“A stranger enters the inner sanctum of the Ashby family posing as Patrick Ashby, the heir to the family’s sizeable fortune.  The stranger, Brat Farrar, has been carefully coached on Patrick’s mannerisms, 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 threaten to jeopardise his plan and his very life…”

I was intrigued all of the way through the book, but sadly the plot twist which was used was quite obvious, and I guessed what would happen just a little way in.  The entirety of the story was so well written and plotted however, that it didn’t seem to matter in the grand scheme of things.  All of the characters were believable beings, and they had qualities which set them apart from one another, which is quite tricky to do sometimes when there are a few protagonists in a novel.  Brat Farrar is not my favourite Tey to date, but it is still a great novel.

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Three Disappointing Novels

I subscribe to the Nancy Pearl rule of only reading fifty pages of a book and giving up if you aren’t enjoying it.  It works very well indeed for the mostpart, but there are occasions in which I have read an enjoyable book by a certain author, and want to see another of their works through to the end in the hope that it might improve.  There are also those books whose storylines sound far too good to give up reading.  I have grouped together an amalgamation of three such books, all of which I had high hopes for and was ultimately disappointed with.

‘The Listeners’ by Monica Dickens

The Listeners by Monica Dickens **
If I had bothered to read the blurb before purchasing The Listeners, I doubt whether I would have chosen it over Monica Dickens’ other books.  Its premise – troubled people seeking help from The Samaritans, which is partly based upon her own experiences in setting up the first American branch of the charity – does not render it the most cheerful of novels by any means.  The front of the very ugly Penguin edition which I read says that ‘her famous novel about the Samaritans’ is ‘compassionate, observant and amusing’.

I did like the way in which The Listeners followed different characters, both victims and workers for the Samaritans, but there was a real sense of distancing throughout, and I felt unable to identify – or even sympathise with – the characters because of it.  Dickens has created a cast of very troubled people, and there are far too many characters throughout, which further hinders any care and compassion being built up on the side of the reader.  Whilst Dickens is not shy in describing those whom she creates, they feel rather two-dimensional, particularly when considered as an entire cast.  As with much of Dickens’ work, it is nicely written, but it is neither as lovely as Mariana, nor as witty or absorbing as her memoir, One Pair of Feet.  It was even a little dull in places, which I found surprising; I was expecting it to be a very engaging novel.  It was lovely, however to see that some people do give up their time to help others in such life-changing ways.

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Celebrations at Thrush Green by Miss Read ***
This was another book which I borrowed from the library, and based upon the two books written by Miss Read which are upon my read shelves, I was expecting quite a quick and cosy read.  The premise sounded relatively intriguing: ‘There’s double cause to celebrate in Thrush Green: the school is in its centenary year, and an unexpected letter sheds light on the village’s most distinguished son, whose statue has stood on the green for many years.  However, the preparations are plagued with anxieties…’.

Sadly, and even though I did enjoy it on the whole, Celebrations at Thrush Green is my least favourite Miss Read book to date.  It was a little too quiet and predictable overall, and some of the characters did not feel as though they had been well fleshed out.  I will still read more of the extensive Thrush Green series, but I can only hope that all of the books I have yet to come across are more enjoyable than this one.

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‘An Expert in Murder’ by Nicola Upson

An Expert in Murder by Nicola Upson **
This is one of the novels which I picked up in the library sale. I hadn’t heard of the author before, but the premise – in which an imagined Josephine Tey works as a detective of sorts to solve crime – was really interesting.  (Side note: I hate to be superficial, but the beautiful Faber & Faber cover also attracted me to the volume.)  The storyline does sound marvellous:

“It is 1934, and celebrated Scottish crime writer Josephine Tey is on her way to London to see her own hit West End play – but her trip is interrupted by the grisly murder of a young train passenger…  Cleverly blending elements of the Golden Age author’s real life with a gripping murder mystery, ‘An Expert in Murder’ is both a tribute to one of the most popular writers of crime and a richly atmospheric detective novel in its own right.”

I am beginning to adore quaint crime novels, and this seemed to fit the brief perfectly.  Until I started to read it, that is.  The sense of place is very well portrayed from the first, but the scenes and settings are the liveliest thing about the entire book.  The style of the prose fits the period relatively well, but oddly, a lot of the dialogue, and the things which the characters talk about – do not seem to.  There are often quite modern constructions within the conversations, which sit oddly against the whole.  The third person perspective which Upson has used does work well with the unfolding story, but something about it renders the characters rather flat.  Whilst An Expert in Murder starts off relatively well, it soon lost momentum.  It lagged a lot in places, and did not hold my interest throughout.  There were no characters whom I really liked – or was even interested in – and I even found Upson’s portrayal of Josephine Tey rather insipid.  I doubt that I will read more of the author’s work based upon this, especially given the poor reviews of her fiction which I have seen around the Internet since reading this book.

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‘Brat Farrar’ by Josephine Tey ****

I had only read a couple of Josephine Tey’s novels before I started Brat Farrar, but she is an author whom I very much enjoy.  This particular novel was first published in 1949, and is more of a mystery than a murder mystery.  The plot is most interesting:

“A stranger enters the inner sanctum of the Ashby family posing as Patrick Ashby, the heir to the family’s sizeable fortune.  The stranger, Brat Farrar, has been carefully coached on Patrick’s mannerisms, 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 threaten to jeopardise his plan and his very life…”

I was intrigued all of the way through the book, but sadly the plot twist which was used was quite obvious, and I guessed what would happen just a little way in.  The entirety of the story was so well written and plotted however, that it didn’t seem to matter in the grand scheme of things.  All of the characters were believable beings, and they had qualities which set them apart from one another, which is quite tricky to do sometimes when there are a few protagonists in a novel.  Brat Farrar is not my favourite Tey to date, but it is still a great novel.