The Detective Fiction of H.C. Bailey

“Mr. Fortune’s position among readers of detective stories is unique.  Some cannot read about him at any price; many regard him as merely one of several first-class practitioners; but many more still, the other and my side idolatry, mark time between Mr. Bailey’s chronicles.  To us any case of “Reggie sighed” is criminologically royal…” –

Torquemada, Observer, 31st March 1935

“Mr. Bailey is, indeed, one of those rare writers who are masters alike of the short form and the long, and his colleagues can only wonder with awe at the fertility of invention which allows him magnificently to bestow upon one book half a dozen admirable plots, almost always with an exciting and totally unexpected conclusion.” –

E.R. Punshon, Manchester Guardian, 18th September 1936.

“…He constructs a plot that twists and turns like an electric eel: it gives you shock upon shock and you cannot let go.” –

Times Literary Supplement, 19th October 1940.

An author with the imagination of Gladys Mitchell, the allusiveness and poetic style of G.K. Chesterton, and the plotting ability of Agatha Christie? H(enry) C(hristopher) Bailey (1878--1961) is one of the true masters of the genre, and, like all the best writers, shamefully neglected today: although his short stories are widely anthologised, none of the novels are in print at the moment--a sad state of affairs. Bailey's appeal lies in his ability to create memorable murderers: the sadistic philanthropist Lady Chantry in "The Unknown Murderer", the mother who poisons her family and herself to leave the inheritance to her beloved son in "The Broken Toad", and the doctor who murders the unwanted children of wealthy parents in order to cure the children of the poor in "The Long Dinner"; his ability to create atmosphere through setting and landscape: the desolation of coast and mud in The Sullen Sky Mystery, the terrible grandeur of the cliffs of Black Land, White Land; and the use of allegory: like the short stories of Chesterton, Bailey's works function on two levels: as detective stories, and as fables. Taken as a whole, he is, with Chesterton and Mitchell, by far the most rewarding writer of detective stories.

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These pages copyright Nicholas Lester Fuller, 2000--2010.  Created Monday, 24 December 2001, updated 3rd December 2004.