What with a global pandemic, running the 2021 conference completely online using Zoom for two hundred delegates from around the globe and praying that my broadband would stand the strain, and holding our first live conference in the restaurant of the British Library after an electrical fire closed the conference centre two days before the 2022 Bodies conference was scheduled to take place (big thanks to all the AV team and other staff at the British Library for pulling off the seemingly impossible in under 48 hours), it has been an eventful last few years and I think it is forgivable the excitement and stress we managed to overlook the fact that we are now at the point where we are marking the centenary of the Golden Age.
It seems appropriate, therefore, in this age of Prizes that we ought to consider awarding prizes for books published 100 years ago. With that in view, I hereby inaugurate the Centenary Prize for Golden Age Detective Fiction which is open to any work of work of Golden Age Detective Fiction published 100 years ago this year.
Now, if I had got my act in gear sooner, I wouldn’t be launching this Centenary Prize with the publications of 1922 because, let’s face it, 1922 was not a vintage year for GAD fiction. In fact, the shortlist I have come up with is, how to put this… a little underwhelming.
But beggars can’t be choosers, so here goes:
The provisional shortlist for the 2022 Centenary Prize for Golden Age Detective Fiction is:
The Man Who Knew Too Much by G.K. Chesterton
From the writer of the Father Brown stories we have a one off experiment that kinda, sorta, maybe works. But don’t take my word for it, you can check out the views of the far more erudite Kate Jackson at her Cross Examining Crim blog: The Man Who Knew Too Much (1922) by G. K. Chesterton – crossexaminingcrime (wordpress.com)
She rates it a respectable 3/5 on writing style and 4/5 on characters.
The Secret Adversary by Agatha Christie
This novel marks the first entry in the long-running Tommy and Tuppence series. Now don’t get me wrong, I am a big fan of Tuppence who comes out well in the feisty heroine with brains stakes but, oh dear, Tommy is such an irritating chap. He has the brawn but is under the illusion that he has the brains in the outfit too. Yes, I know that this is all part of the joke as Christie sends him up and Tuppence lets him take credit where none is due but, sighs deeply at this point, the joke does pall by the end. Well, by the end of chapter two for me but, hey, such is life.
The Pit-Prop Syndicate by Freeman Wills Crofts
Now I am a big fan of Freeman Wills Crofts and his Inspector French police procedurals. He is a true Master of the Humdrum (as Curtis Evans has so aptly described this sub-genre of GAD fiction). But, I think, by common consent, this is not one his finest entries in the category. Curtis dismisses it: “with its soppy heroine moaning over and over to her beloved, like a wilting Victorian miss, that their love ‘cannot be’…[is] not nearly [one of] Crofts’ strongest books in my opinion” –http://thepassingtramp.blogspot.com/
The Problem of Thor Bridge by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Only a short story this, and a late one at that, but it has the twin merits of featuring Sherlock Holmes and some mysterious marks on the balustrade of a bridge which give a clue to the identity of the killer and both means and motive for the killing. Not bad for a brief little package of little more than a dozen pages when collected in The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes. It also served as the blueprint for what is, arguably, the first true detective story featuring Albert Campion – let’s just say that Margery Allingham leant heavily on features of its plot for her novel so it has certainly demonstrated a legacy out of proportion to its slim size.
Helen Vardon’s Confession by R Austin Freeman
It is sometimes, somewhat unkindly, suggested that Freeman modelled his scientifically minded sleuth Dr Thorndyke on Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. But, I truth, what detective in GAD fiction does not owe at least a tip of the (deerstalker) hat to Holmes? Nick Fuller argues that this may be Freeman’s worst book: Helen Vardon’s Confession (Freeman) – The Grandest Game in the World (wordpress.com) It certainly features some nasty anti-Semitism but fans of Thorndyke (and I am one of them) have to live with this and other uncomfortable views expressed by their author. For a fair analysis of this and other issues I recommend you turn to another Thorndyke fan, Jim Noy, in conversation with Dolores Gordon Smith (another – there are a lot of us about) at: In GAD We Trust – Episode 20: The Dr. Thorndyke Stories of R. Austin Freeman [w’ Dolores Gordon-Smith] | The Invisible Event
So there you have them. Five shortlisted pieces of GAD fiction from 1922.
Which do you think deserves the Centenary Prize for Golden Age Detective Fiction? Or do you have another title you would nominate?