Patrick, a man wise beyond his years and master of that smashing resource, At The Scene of the Crime, today celebrates the second online birthday of his blog. As we are both fans of mystery audios I was thrilled to … Continue reading
The novelist, screenwriter and critic Gilbert Adair (who died last year) was above all a postmodernist, one whose work riffed and built self-consciously on pre-existing works. I’m a big fan of Adair and enjoy postmodern fiction too but an appreciation … Continue reading
News has reached us here at Fedora that the British novelist, critic, poet, translator and screenwriter Gilbert Adair has died at the age of 66. He was born in Edinburgh on 29 December 1944 but for many years was based … Continue reading
The plan was to come up with a top 100 that I was prepared to stand by – but I wanted to re-read so many of the books that I might have included but now remembered too vaguely (such as Ngaio Marsh’s output or books like Tey’s hugely popular The Daughter of Time) that I thought I should publish only a partial list. Not to mention finding it a bit hard to just settle on one book by Georges Simenon given the enormity of his output – I have placed a list of 80+ titles on the site and am extremely open to suggestions …
So here are My (Nearly) Top 100 Mystery Books Continue reading
When is a post not a real post? When is a book not a book? When is a fiction a ‘real’ fiction?
One of the standout features of Rex Stout’s The League of Frightened Men is the prominence in the plot of the literary accomplishments of creepy suspect Paul Chapin, author of such (fictitious) works as ‘Devil Take the Hindmost’ – indeed, it is through a detailed analysis of Chapin’s work that Wolfe is be able to crack the case. This got me thinking about long and honourable history of fictitious novels and the allure of lost manuscripts in general. Henry James’ The Aspern Papers is certainly one of the most notable of such works but in the mystery genre it does seem to be particularly prevalent – this is in addition of course to all the works inspired by to the references in Arthur Conan Doyle to unreported tales, such as in the case of the ‘Giant Rat of Sumatra’, most notably in the book of short stories by Doyle’s son Adrian and John Dickson Carr in the 1950s (published as The Exploits of Sherlock Holmes) and most recently the pastiches written for radio by Bert Coules as The Further Adventure of Sherlock Holmes. Continue reading
Gilbert Adair is a postmodern novelist, which in his case means that much of his work riffs on previous publications to such an extent that the reader’s response to, or enjoyment of, it will be conditioned and directly proportional to a) how well they know the works of Proust (The Key to the Tower), Thomas Mann (Love and Death in Long Island) or even Agatha Christie (the Evadne Mount series) and b) their willingness to forego a certain degree of emotional attachment in the place of a more rarefied intellectual response.
Adair’s affection for the detective genre, especially its Golden Age variant, is perfectly understandable if one considers how playful the genre could get in the 1920s and 30s, which comes across particularly forcefully in his Agatha Christie pastiches featuring Marple-like detective Evadne Mount.
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Is the detective story fundamentally a postmodern genre?
During the ‘Golden Age’ of the detective story, between the two World Wars, the genre developed as a game in which ingenuity and surprise were much more important than characterisation or plausibility. The likes of Monsignor Ronald Knox and SS Van Dine created rigid lists of what was, and was not, permissible in a detective story, in much the same way as one would seek to establish the conventions of a round of Bridge – there were puzzles in the real sense of the word, constructed like crossword puzzles and frequently appealing to those in search of distraction by way of gentle brainteaser. Crime not as literature but as a form of narrative Sudoku in which the main virtue was the ability to create order from seeming chaos and succeed in tricking the opponent / reader. Inevitably many of the stories written then and shortly thereafter extended the ‘rules of engagement’ to include parody but such was the sense of ‘gamesmanship’ that knowing postmodern jokes and tropes started to enter the genre even before the term ‘postmodern had come into general use after the end of the Second World War.
Below I list some of the postmodern mystery stories that I have enjoyed the most – this is clearly a short and personal list of favourites and I would be very interested to know of titles that other readers would include in their lists. Continue reading
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In his 2010 book (‘novel’ just seems too inadequate a term somehow) And Then There Was No One, ironist supreme Gilbert Adair includes himself as the main character in the third and last of his pastiches featuring his ex-spinster novelist-cum-detective … Continue reading