Murder Considered as one of the Fine Arts

"Roger Sheringham was inclined to think afterwards that the Poisoned Chocolates Case, as the papers called it, was perhaps the most perfectly planned murder he had ever encountered. The motive was so obvious, when you knew where to look for itbut you didn't know; the method was so significant when you had grasped its real essentialsbut you didn't grasp them; the traces were so thinly covered, when you had realised what was covering thembut you didn't realise. But for a piece of the merest bad luck, which the murderer could not possibly have foreseen, the crime must have been added to the classical list of great mysteries."

Anthony Berkeley—"The Avenging Chance" (1929)

The title of this web-site comes from John Dickson Carr’s famous essay on the genre, “The Grandest Game in the World” (collected in Douglas G. Greene’s The Door to Doom and Other Detections, 1980).  To paraphrase Carr, the essence of the game is in the pitting of the author’s intellect against a quick-witted reader, the concealment of clues and the effective surprise at the end (whether it be the murderer’s identity, an unusual motive or a novel murder method).

These are the bare bones of the detective story, and much can be done with them.  The detective story ranges from the straightforward sleuthing of John Rhode or J.J. Connington, the supernatural menace of G.K. Chesterton or Carr himself, the richness and humour of Dorothy L. Sayers or Gladys Mitchell, the novel of character of Margery Allingham or Henry Wade and the don’s delight of Michael Innes or Edmund Crispin to the psychological realism of Ruth Rendell or P.D. James.  All of these are worthy of attention, but there are many more obscure writers whose work is equally deserving of attention.

The purpose of this site, therefore, is to examine the work of an author in detail, to separate the wheat from the chaff and – I hope – to encourage the reader of this site to go out for himself and read the work of these authors.

To help them on their way, there are three books which are warmly recommended: H. Douglas Thompson's Masters of Mystery (1932 Collins), which, although quite an old book, is the best study of many of the authors of the time, and still has many interesting things to say about the genre; Jacques Barzun and Wendell Hertig Taylor’s A Catalogue of Crime (1989 Harper and Row), which examines individual titles by several hundred (thousand?) writers; and John Cooper and B.A. Pike’s Detective Fiction: the Collectors’ Guide, a truly invaluable book describing the works of more than a hundred different writers (almost all the bibliographies on this site were adapted from this book).  Nobody interested in the field should be without them.


Nick Fuller

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