Mysteries From the Golden Age...and Beyond
On September 21, 2016, the Library hosted The Golden Age of Mysteries: Tracing the Bloodline of Crime Fiction, a panel discussion co-sponsored by Mystery Writers of America New York. The evening was lively, opinionated, fun, and informative—and a rich source of book recommendations for mystery readers. For the most part, discussion stayed close to the “Golden Age” and its canon (Sayers, Tey, Christie, etc.), but digressions were inevitable and a wide variety of interesting—and occasionally obscure—books and authors were enthusiastically recommended. We have highlighted some of these recommendations below. If you missed the event, watch the recording here.
The panel included Charles Ardai, winner of Edgar, Shamus and Ellery Queen Awards and founding editor of Hard Case Crime; Julia Dahl, journalist and novelist; Parnell Hall, novelist; and Elizabeth Zelvin, novelist. The moderator was novelist and dramatist Joseph Goodrich. Read more about the panelists here.
“What books do you return to from the Golden Age?”
Charles Ardai: The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler. Mr. Ardai called Chandler’s pioneering 1939 hardboiled classic “the closest thing that I’ve found in mystery writing to F. Scott Fitzgerald.” He also mentioned Finishing Stroke (1958) by Ellery Queen, and then jumped ahead a few decades for The Westing Game (1979) by Ellen Raskin. The last is a “desert island book.” Although a children’s book, he said that everyone should read it and called it “one of most extraordinary mysteries I have read.”
Joseph Goodrich: Cat of Many Tails (1949) by Ellery Queen. The Library has dozens of additonal Ellery Queen novels and collections on stack 6.
Julia Dahl: Strangers on a Train (1950) by Patricia Highsmith. Ms. Dahl called Highsmith the “master of creating an aura of menace.”
Elizabeth Zelvin said she consistently returns to the works of Patricia Wentworth (1878-1961). The Library collection contains over 50 books by Wentworth on stack 6. Ms. Zelvin also mentioned perennials Dorothy Sayers (1893-1957) and Josephine Tey (1896 or 1897-1952). What attracts Ms. Zelvin to Josephine Tey is her knack for creating “endearing characters.” The Library has about 30 works of fiction by Sayers in Stack 6, plus an additional 30 books throughout the stacks, including essays and works on religion, literary criticism, and translations.
Parnell Hall: Books by A.A. Fair featuring the Cool and Lam detective agency, with Donald Lam and Bertha Cool as protagonists. A.A. Fair was a pen name of Erle Stanley Gardner (1889-1970), famous for creating Perry Mason. The A.A. Fair/Cool & Lam titles are “wonderful books,” according to Mr. Hall, especially the first in the series, The Bigger they Come (1939). The Library has 19 novels that Gardner wrote as A.A. Fair, and many more in the Perry Mason series.
“[What books inspire you to say] you haven’t read this?! You must read…”
Julia Dahl: American Tragedy (1925) by Theodore Dreiser, which, she noted, is not a traditional mystery but is a “great crime novel.” She also readily recommends Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk About Kevin (“the most terrifying book I have read”), published in 2003.
Elizabeth Zelvin: Josephine Tey’s 1949 novel Brat Farrar (“the ultimate in endearing characters”) and Gaudy Night (1935) by Dorothy Sayers. She also recommends the police procedural character-driven novels of Reginald Hill (1936-2012), who she calls “a wonderful British writer." You can find 67 books by Reginald Hill, a long-time Library favorite, on stack 5.
Parnell Hall: Counterfeit Eye (1935) by Erle Stanley Gardner
Charles Ardai: Lawrence Block’s Eight Million Ways to Die (1982). Mr. Ardai calls this “one of the greats of modern detective novels,” with a “beautiful story” about a recovering alcoholic. You can find this and about 75 other novels by Lawrence Block on Stack 5. Ardai also recommends The Red Right Hand (1945), by Joel Townsley, “an obscure one but no one has ever regretted reading it.” Mr. Ardai described it as “peculiar… surrealistic… perhaps the most brilliantly constructed puzzle mystery I have read.”
Joseph Goodrich: From the Golden Age, Mr. Goodrich recommends The Beast Must Die (1938) by Nicholas Blake—the pen-name of Cecil Day Lewis (1904-1972), who was Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom from 1968 until his death (and father of actor Daniel Day-Lewis). He also recommended “a very curious one, not a traditional mystery, but disturbing, evoking certain fears of its era” called The Deadly Percheron by John Franklin Bardin (1946), as well as Goodnight and Good-Bye (1979) by Timothy Harris.
Thanks to the MWA NY panelists for some wonderful suggestions for our many mystery readers.