In 1980 to celebrate fifty years of its Crime Club, Collins published their Golden Jubilee collection. The twelve books chosen by Julian Symons were taken from those published between 1930-1955 and which were out of print at the time the selection was made. Having just read the first two shown below in this very edition I thought it would be good to look at the whole collection. The numbers in brackets refer to the total number of books by the author that could have been chosen, assuming all were out of print at the time.
The Maze (1932) by Philip MacDonald (12)
Obelists Fly High (1935) by C. Daly King (6)
The ABC Murders by (1936) by Agatha Christie (38)
The Loss of the Jane Vosper (1936) by Freeman Wills Crofts (7)
Minute for Murder (1947) by Nicholas Blake (11)
No Mask for Murder (1950) by Andrew Garve (8)
Which I Never (1950) L. A. G. Strong (4)
Even in the Best Families (1951) by Rex Stout (26)
An Afternoon to Kill (1953) by Shelley Smith (8)
The Odd Flamingo (1954) by Nina Bawden (1)
Spinsters in Jeopardy (1954) by Ngaio Marsh (11)
Enough to Kill a Horse (1955) by Elizabeth Ferrars (10)
Firstly, some thoughts on the two that I’ve just read:
MacDonald’s book has the subtitle “An Exercise in Detection” and he explains in the introduction that this is because the reader is presented exactly the same information as his sleuth, Anthony Gethryn, which is the transcripts of the coroner’s inquest, and so they should be able to solve the case just as well as Gethryn does.
The book is successful in what it sets out to do, and even with pure dialogue MacDonald manages to differentiate his characters and give them personality but because it lacks the investigative phase involving theory and counter-theory it is not the most interesting of mysteries.
“Obelists Fly High” begins with an Epilogue and ends with a Prologue (although neither are exactly that – Philip MacDonald’s “Rynox” uses this device in a much stricter sense) and is cleverer than it seems and this compensates for a dull section compiling a timetable of movements and a good deal of psychological bunkum.
I can understand why Symons selected these two titles, but I disagree with some of his choices.
I would definitely keep “The ABC Murders” – it’s unbelievable that one of my favourite Christie’s was out of print. Say what you like about the estate – and some of us do – but they have done a great job of keeping all of her work easily available.
“The Loss of the Jane Vosper” is not one of the better Inspector French mysteries in my view and with the excellent “Mystery on Southampton Water” unavailable as Crofts switched to Hodder & Stoughton for 1933-34 and so I’m selecting:
Crime at Guildford (1935)
Whilst not as celebrated as “The Beast Must Die”, “Minute for Murder” is a good poisoning mystery set in a WWII civil service ministry and I’m happy with that choice.
I haven’t read “No Mask for Murder” but from the same author I have enjoyed:
Murder in Moscow (1951)
I’m unfamiliar with L. A. G. Strong but I would like to include something by John Rhode/Miles Burton:
Death in the Tunnel (1936)
“Even in the Best Families” is the third book in the “Zeck” trilogy and is an odd choice on that basis so I’d swap it for the first case of Nero Wolfe that I read:
Some Buried Caesar (1939)
I haven’t read anything by Shelley Smith or Nina Bawden but Anthony Gilbert was a prolific club writer, as was E. C. R. Lorac so I would include:
Death Knocks Three Times (1949)
Fire in the Thatch (1946)
There are definitely better Ngaio Marsh books than “Spinsters in Jeopardy” and whilst my favourite “The Nursing Home Murder” is unavailable for selection as the Club only started to publish her in 1939 I would replace it with:
Swing, Brother, Swing (1949)
I have read one Elizabeth Ferrars book, but one author who definitely needs to be chosen is Rupert Penny:
Sealed Room Murder (1941)
That’s my deadly dozen, what’s yours?
This post couldn’t have been written without significant reference to John Curran’s beautiful guide to the 2,000+ books issued by the Club.