Friday, 25 January 2008

An Afternoon to Kill

Reprinting neglected classics of crime fiction is a great service performed by a small number of admirable publishers. It’s still a great service, even if the books turn out, in the cold light of day, not to live up their reputations. In the field of short fiction, Doug Greene’s Crippen and Landru have done a marvellous job in resurrecting innumerable splendid stories that would otherwise still be gathering dust. I’ve mentioned Rue Morgue Press recently in connection with Dorothy Bowers, and their books are always worth a look Ramble House have reprinted the weird yet unforgettable Harry Stephen Keeler, as well as some books by such interesting and varied authors as Rupert Penny and Joel Townsley Rogers.

I’d like to think that one day, someone will reprint the hard-to-find books by C. Daly King that I mentioned the other day. Obelists Fly High was reprinted in the UK in 1980, to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of the Collins Crime Club (a great imprint, sadly no more – killed off by the accountants, I guess.) Symons chose and introduced twelve titles in all. Some were familiar – such as Christie’s The ABC Murders. Others were competent but unexceptional – books by Freeman Wills Crofts, Elizabeth Ferrars and Andrew Garve. And there were one or two gems.

Best of all, I thought, was Shelley Smith’s An Afternoon to Kill. Smith was a very good writer, whom Symons plainly admired, but who seems to have given up on crime fiction prematurely after producing some very good books (the same is true of Margot Bennett, again someone I read and enjoyed on Symons’ recommendation.)

An Afternoon to Kill is such a terrific story that I don’t want to say much about it, for fear of giving the game away. But it really is very enjoyable, as well as clever. Time for another reprint, perhaps?

8 comments:

eric-mayer said...

You ought to suggest republishing C. Daly King to Poisoned Pen Press. You'd no doubt be happy to do the intros. How could they refuse? :)

Martin Edwards said...

Yes, Eric, I'm surprised that King has - except for a couple of titles - not been reprinted, whereas even the very obscure Rupert Penny has, thanks to Ramble House. My copy of his 'The Lucky Policeman' arrived today and I'm really looking forward to it. At his best, he's a very enjoyable writer indeed if you like traditional puzzles.

Xavier said...

Symons chose and introduced twelve titles in all. Some were familiar – such as Christie’s The ABC Murders. Others were competent but unexceptional – books by Freeman Wills Crofts, Elizabeth Ferrars and Andrew Garve.

Which Garve did he choose?

Martin Edwards said...

Xavier, it was No Mask for Murder. Symons was, I believe, quite friendly with Paul Winterton (who wrote as Garve.)

Xavier said...

I read No Mask years ago and I liked it. The plot and the characters were admittedly nothing to write home about, but the setting was very well-done. Of the Garves I have read so far it is one of the best, along with The File on Lester and Murder in Moscow which probably is his finest work. Garve had good ideas, a sense of place and occasionally of character but too often he was unable to make use of them all in the same book. Aforementioned Murder in Moscow is the only exception I have met to date: a good plot, a good setting (of which Garve had firsthand knowledge) and good characterization. Too bad he wasn't able to repeat that feat more often.

Martin Edwards said...

Agreed. I liked 'The Megstone Plot' but haven't read much Garve. Of those I have read, the settings were well drawn. But I haven't read 'Murder in Moscow', so I will look out for it.

john morris said...

I agree that Obelists Fly High is some kind of (dotty) classic, required reading if you love the Golden Age.

But since you briefly mentioned Joel Townsley Rogers, let me put in a plug for a much greater book: Rogers' The Red Right Hand. "Dotty" doesn't begin to describe this extraordinary production. It may boast the most over-clued solution every written -- and yet the odds are you'll miss it entirely. It also plays with the "unreliable narrator" idea in a way that seems almost impossible for a 1940s crime novel, but plainly Rogers knew exactly what he was doing.

The Red Right Hand is on my list of the 10 best Golden Age novels -- I do hope you've read and enjoyed it.

Martin Edwards said...

Hi John. Yes, I have read it and I agree with you unhesitatingly. Brilliant.