The Scoop, my latest entry to Patti Abbott's series of forgotten books, was the second collaborative writing project undertaken by members of the Detection Club. It was originally written for broadcast on BBC radio, first appearing in ‘The Listener’ in 1931. Not until 1983 did the story appear in book form, when Gollancz published it, together with Behind the Screen, a similar effort from 1930. Essentially, The Scoop is a novella, and has the strengths and limitations of these round-robin efforts.
One great strength is the quality of the writing. In Golden Age detection terms, the authors really were the cream of the crop: Agatha Christie, Freeman Wills Crofts, E.C. Bentley and Anthony Berkeley among them. Dorothy L. Sayers kicked off the story and also finished it, and everyone else also wrote two chapters each. The only author whose other work I haven’t read is Clemence Dane. Dane was a pseudonym for Winifred Ashton. In her time, she was very well known in the world of theatre, but her reputation in the crime field has not survived too well (her three detective novels were co-written with Helen Simpson.) However, it seems that she was a successful playwright and even won an Oscar. Not many crime writers can make a similar claim.
The story centres around a newspaper, ‘The Morning Star’ (very different from the left wing publication of the same name, which continues to flourish to this day.) The main focus of interest for the newshounds is the Lone Bungalow Mystery – a woman has been found stabbed to death in mysterious circumstances, and a young reporter called Johnson is sent to investigate. He soon discovers the weapon, but is himself murdered, and a more experienced reporter, Denis Oliver, takes over the investigation.
The authors’ distinctive styles contribute to the fun. Sayers writes with her usual gusto. Christie is clear, witty and readable. When Crofts takes over, he switches attention from the amateur detective work to the plodding investigation of Scotland Yard. When Clemence Dane concentrated on the purchase of a puppy by one of the secretaries who works on the newspaper, I began to understand why her career as a crime writer was not exactly legendary – but in the end, the puppy contributes to the sorting-out of the story.
This story was a novelty when it was written. More than three-quarters of a century later, I still found it a highly engaging curiosity.