Sunday, 27 June 2010

Helen Simpson


One of the articles in the new issue of CADS, from regular contributor Liz Gilbey, provides a very interesting account of the Australian born Golden Age crime writer Helen Simpson, whose first detective story appeared in 1925, when she was just 28.

I learned a lot about Simpson from this article that I didn’t know before. She was an early, and youthful, member of the Detection Club, and contributed to The Floating Admiral, Ask a Policeman and Anatomy of Murder. But she did a good deal more. In 1926 she contributed dialogue to the Hitchcock film Sabotage, and a book she co-authored, Enter Sir John, was filmed by Hitchcock as Murder! After her death, Hitchcock also made a movie from her book Under Capricorn.

Enter Sir John was the firs of three novels she co-wrote with Clemence Dane (who, I was startled to learn, ‘was Britain’s most successful writer’between the wars. A year after the novel was published, Dorothy L. Sayers published Strong Poison, which had some similarities. Sayers was, in fact, one of her closest friends.

Sadly, Simpson died of cancer in 1940, at the age of 43. As Liz Gilbey says, she was ‘on the brink of greater writing success and a new political career’ – she was a Liberal parliamentary candidate from 1938. Her premature death no doubt helps explain why she is now seldom mentioned by crime fans, but this first class article made me want to read more of her work.

11 comments:

Margot Kinberg said...

Martin - Little wonder I enjoy stopping at your blog as often as I do; I always learn something. Thanks for this insight on Helen Simpson. Lots that I hadn't known before.

lyn said...

I've been interested in Simpson since reading DLS's letters. Thanks for the information. I'd love to read her books too.

vegetableduck said...

What is meant by "most successful"? If sales, I would have thought it was Edgar Wallace (he's still in the top thirty best-selling novelists).

"Enter Sir John" is well-written , but the solution rather risible. I wonder if Hitchcock changed it? I liked her crime novel Vantage Stryker better.

vegetableduck said...

Oh, should have mentioned, Howard Haycraft said she was killed in the Blitz--understandable confusion, but wrong, as you point out. As I recollect, she was evacuated from her London hospital, where she was in terminal condition, and later died at a hospital outside London.

Elizabeth Foxwell said...

Martin,
See the post on my blog on _Re-Enter Sir John_ that discusses Helen de Guerry Simpson Browne and Clemence Dane.

http://elizabethfoxwell.blogspot.com/2007/07/cornerstone-re-enter-sir-john-1932.html

Martin Edwards said...

Curt, I'm not entirely sure why Dane is regarded as 'most successful', or at least not entirely convinced it was true, but I can recommend Liz Gilbey's article - very good.

Martin Edwards said...

Elizabeth, many thanks for the link.

Alistair Macfarlane said...

Sort of on topic, are you a fan of Peter Temple?
I think his books are great reads.

Martin Edwards said...

Hi, Alistair. I haven't read any Temple novels, though I did dip into one briefly some years ago. He's one of those writers I really ought to give a try.

Potential Being said...

Trying to find some lost voice recordings of Helen De Guerry Simpson. Basically trying to find an independent audio researcher. She was said to be a prolific broadcaster in England and Australia. It is said she appeared on certain quiz shows in 1930's. Her daughter is still alive and has not heard her mother's voice since she was 11. Might be a folly but would like to try to find some kind of recordings. I searched the usual suspects on line with Australian Broadcasting library and british sound library. Any thoughts appreciated
Thank you

Tuck Kamin
Austin Texas

Martin Edwards said...

Hello Tuck. Have you tried the BBC itself? I do hope some sound recordings can be found. Please can you email me so we can discuss further?