Could This Be The Return Of A Golden Age?

Bryant and May

9-FarjeonBook

When I read about this trend my heart leapt. Could it actually mean that Bryant & May’s time had come? Am I ahead of the curve for once? Apparently, a Christmas detective novel that’s 70 years old has become a sleeper hit and resurrected interest in a long-forgotten crime writer.

Mystery in White: A Christmas Crime Story by J Jefferson Farjeon is selling in “astonishing numbers”, according to the Waterstones book chain. It has outsold rival paperbacks Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn, and Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch on the high street, while Amazon temporarily ran out of stock last week due to surging demand.

The novel concerns a group of six archetypes stuck on a train stranded by snow on Christmas Eve. Fearing that they may find themselves marooned all night, they walk to the next station, coming across an unlocked house with dinner laid, kettle boiled and a fire on, but no one at home. Then a murderer strikes…

Now, this may be a bit of hubris on the part of the British Library Crime Classics series, which has been publishing some nostalgic and frankly not-very-wonderful novels from the pre-Second World War Golden Age of crime writing. But it’s true that over 155,000 copies in the series have been sold this year, but with ‘Mystery in White’ accounting for 60,000 of those sales. The book’s not much of a mystery but it is steeped in atmosphere. And unlike many modern Golden Age novels, it’s not parodic but played straight (I’m not a fan of books with titles like ‘Betsy Binkles and the Broken Teacup’).

Hmmm….Golden Age detectives trapped in snow trying to solve a murder, and the word ‘white’ in the title – where have I heard that before?

Bryant & May enter the white corridor

6 comments on “Could This Be The Return Of A Golden Age?”

  1. Reuben says:

    Wow! Does this mean I’m suddenly hip and trendy? I read this last week. It was enjoyable stuff. I think I originally came across it while looking through BL’s list of crime titles. Anyone recommend any other titles they publish?

  2. Brooke Lynne says:

    Arthur is definitely light years ahead. I reserve judgement on you and John.

  3. John says:

    The interest has always been there though you may find many of these books “frankly not-very-wonderful.” The resurgence in vintage detective novels, private eye books, and the so-called “noir” subgenre in vintage crime fiction (and an often poor replication of it in modern crime fiction) has been going on for over ten years now. In only the past four years there has been an explosion of indie presses reprinting all sorts of previously long out of print fiction of all types in both print an electronic books. That one single title managed to sell so many copies in 2014 has a lot to do with the book’s nostalgic and familiar content (country house murder coupled with train travel), the marketing both by the British Library and via social media and blogs, and probably most telling of all the release of the book right around Christmas time.

  4. Helen Martin says:

    Feeling a little cynical I wonder if a publisher picking up an out of print/copyright item could thereby create a new copyright or would their copyright only hold for the items such as cover material which are original with them? Still, it’s always good to know that things which were enjoyed by earlier generations are at least available should today’s readers find them appealing. (We know that Bryant and May will never go out of print because the readership increases day by day.

  5. Vivienne says:

    I started working my way through 100 Best Crime books and it has been interesting to see things year by year. Doesn’t Invisible Ink also highlight these semi-forgotten writers? For a good snow story of golden age, try Hilda Lawrence Blood on the Snow. The golden age stuff was popular at the same time cryptic crosswords started and are similar in giving leisured people a problem to solve. Who can read a modern crime book with gruesome serial slayings and be able to solve anything? It’s just not possible to get into such sick minds, I hope.

  6. Mim says:

    I really wasn’t keen on Mystery in White – in fact, I’ve found a few of the British Library’s rereleased crime novels a bit disappointing. There’s simply not enough of a mystery in mant of them. ‘The Santa Klaus Murder’ was very good, though, and I think you’d enjoy ‘A Scream in Soho’ for the description of the area in the 1940s as much as the storyline.

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