Bring On The Bodies

Books

For some time now writer and editor Martin Edwards has been unearthing rarely seen crime gems from the British Library, and looking at the history of the British crime novel in volumes like ‘The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books’ and ‘The Golden Age of Murder’, the latter concerning the badly behaved author-members of the Golden Age’s exclusive Detection Club.

PD James felt that you could better understand England in the 1920s through murder mysteries than by reading prize-winning serious novels. The authors often exposed their own prejudices, their political and sexual leanings through their whodunnits, accidentally creating a snapshot of those class-riven times.

Now comes another set of anthologies, ‘Bodies from the Library’, which dig deep into the British Library stacks to find forgotten stories, selected and introduced by Tony Medawar. His discoveries prove pleasingly memorable, with missing tales from Agatha Christie, AA Milne, Margery Allingham and Anthony Berkeley.

Even better, there’s a lost novella from Edmund Crispin, with newly exposed highlights from Dorothy L Sayers and Ngaio Marsh. Some authors’ tales, like those from John Dickson Carr, can feel rote and lazily tossed out on a wet Wednesday, but these are chosen with care, and the series has become essential to anyone interested in Golden Age crime.

19 comments on “Bring On The Bodies”

  1. Liz Thompson says:

    The Edmund Crispin was definitely the best thing in this latest book.

  2. Peter T says:

    I’m presently reading ‘The Sussex Downs Murder’ by John Bude from the British Library series. So far, it’s an excellent mystery. It’s in a similar style to Freeman Wills Croft (also revived by the British Library). They don’t appear particularly class or other prejudice riven, but I may have developed ism-blindness through excessive exposure. Certainly, they are full of character and characters.

  3. Mike Hill says:

    I’ve read several of the British Crime Classics series and would like to particuarly recommend ‘Smallbone Deceased’ by Michael Gilbert. One of the best ‘cosy’ who-done-its I’ve come across. A client is found murdered in a Chancery Lane solicitors’ office with a limited number of suspects to chose from. Originally published in 1950, Mr Gilbert tells the story with no padding and produces a great reveal at the end with no cheating – all the clues are there for the reader to find. Good London setting too – it even mentions a narrow alley called Stone Buildings where I used to lunch in a greasy spoon cafe when I worked nearby in the early ’60s.

  4. Dawn Andrews says:

    My favourite of the Library classics so far is Thirteen Guests by J Jefferson Farjeon, a stately pile whodunnit with a sympathetic vamp, some highly dodgy guests and a sardonic artist in the shed. Look forward to a new Crispin.

  5. admin says:

    Yes, I enjoyed the Crispin (but then I’m a fan). Smallbone Deceased I have in a very nice vintage paperback…but are Golden Age crime novels by their definition always ‘cosy”?

  6. Mike says:

    How are you feeling Chris?
    We seem to have left your problems behind

  7. Dawn Andrews says:

    Am I alone in hating the word cosy being applied to crime novels? They deserve more respect, FFS. (Abbreviation used courtesy of Mr A Bryant. Spoilers! ) A cosy is what you put on a tea pot, or used to.

  8. Brian Evans says:

    No, you’re not alone dawn. It is even more annoying when it is spelt cozy rather than cosy.

  9. Andrew Holme says:

    A ‘Cozy’ refers to the world’s best session drummer. Always has, always will.

  10. Liz Thompson says:

    Thirteen Guests is clever and amusing, I really liked it. I’m working my way through the British Library reprints, mostly excellent. I’m also reading George Bellairs in reprint, some better than others, but overall very good.
    Crispin is still one of my very favourite crime authors.

  11. Dave Young says:

    Oi Andrew, Bernard ‘Pretty Boy’ Purdie is the best session drummer, check out Steely Dan’s “Kid Charlemagne’

  12. Wayne Mook says:

    I think some of the later pastiches have rounded off the corners, Christie can be quite brutal, a lot of other authors don’t pull their punches. We now have tales that are toned down and so is the malice in the stories is no longer there, and so they lack atmosphere. (Wouldn’t happen if Russ Abbott was around, he was big on atmosphere.) It’s the same with some quiet horror, some forget just how nasty M.R. James and his ilk were. Child murders, violent curses, demons, revenge but not ……

    Plus a lot of authors would use them to show the ills of society as a way of highlighting things as well as their own causes.

    Wayne.

  13. Dawn Andrews says:

    It doesn’t get any darker than Lost Hearts does it. He is the master. Even his curtains are scary.

  14. Mike Hill says:

    IWhen I used the term ‘cosy’ I was thinking of the contrast between Michael Gilbert’s writing and that of the more modern stories by James Ellroy, Derek Raymond and Andrew H Vachss that I have also been reading recently.

  15. Helen Martin says:

    When many people use the term cosy they are referring to a type of mystery, often themed, which usually involves a youngish or very elderly woman and her friends who are regularly stumbling over dead bodies (no one ever refers to live bodies) and then outdoing the police in solving the murder. There is very little fear and the series often include pets. The books often contain recipes, project instructions, or gardening hints depending on the theme. They are fluff and don’t pretend to be anything else, but if the theme is of interest there may very well be some helpful hints in that recipe/hint/information section (not an appendix) at the back.

  16. Paul C says:

    Mike – there’s an excellent and lengthy profile of Derek Raymond in Iain Sinclair’s book ‘Lights Out For The Territory’. Raymond’s books are not for the squeamish and are anything but cosy………..

  17. jon says:

    Most of the British Library Crime books are wonderful reads. I would, particularly, recommend the works of Jefferson Farjeon and Freeman Wills Crofts. Can anyone tell me if the stories featured in the Bring on the Bodies series are ones that are not featured in the short story collections published by the British Library?

  18. Paul C says:

    Jon – it it helps, you can see the full list of stories in all 3 volumes of Bodies From The Library by entering Bodies From The Library 3 in Amazon and using the LOOK INSIDE feature.

  19. Andrew Holme says:

    Dave, ‘Pretty Boy’s’ not even the best Steely Dan session drummer, ahem…ta da, Mr. Steve Gadd!

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