In addition to numerous novels and stories featuring her famous detectives, Agatha Christie also wrote a number of short stories about Parker Pyne, whose specialty was introducing a bit of mystery and romance into the lives of bored suburbanites. Most of these have been collected in Parker Pyne Investigates. Not murder mysteries, but if you have never read them, they are a charming treat. Almost uniquely among writers of this period, Christie was not a social snob; housemaids and struggling suburbanites were treated respectfully and sympathetically at her hands.
Have you ever heard of Clara Benson? I hadn't. Clara, born in 1890, wrote several mysteries featuring a society matron, Angela Marchmont, as protagonist. Clara wrote as a hobby, and passed her stories around among her friends. While they were good enough that friends urged her to publish them, she always declined, and it wasn't until 1965 that family members rediscovered her work and offered it to the public.
In The Mystery at Underwood House, Angela is begged by her friend Louisa Haynes to attend a semi-annual dinner with the extended Haynes family. The four children of the late Philip Haynes detested each other, but a stipulation in his will required the periodic meetings, which usually included their spouses and children. At each of the last three dinners, one of the siblings had died, apparently of an accident. Only Louisa's husband John is left, and Louisa is terrified for him. On each death, a large sum of money from the estate (the heirs had a life interest only) goes to the lawyer and executor, who is never present at the dinners. The story revolves around an obscure device in British law called a Secret Trust. Take a look at the Wikipedia description––it seems to offer the mystery author a number of delightful opportunities for crime and confusion. I'm surprised we haven't seen it used more often in Golden Age fiction.
"There seems to be some as-yet-undiscovered connection between coastal resorts and homicide, Dutt, have you noticed?... You mark my words, the sea has a bad influence on potential homicides, whether it's recognized or not."A long-running British TV series was made of the Gently stories in the 1960s, starring Martin Shaw. I don't remember ever seeing it on PBS, but it is available on DVD for those interested.
Patricia Wentworth's Miss Maud Silver mysteries are very similar in mood and theme to Christie's Miss Jane Marple stories. Miss Silver, a governess turned private detective, is usually required to rescue a pair of innocent lovers, at least one of whom has been suspected of the crime. In The Chinese Shawl, Laura Fane has inherited little but a lovely country house from her parents. There is so little money that the house has been rented for many years to her remote cousin Angela, who had been engaged to her father at one time. When Angela's heir, beautiful Tanis, invites Laura for a visit, it will be the first time she has ever seen the house her father so loved. During the weekend the flirtatious Tanis is found murdered, a piece of the Chinese shawl Laura inherited from her mother clutched in her hand. Only Miss Silver, who seems to have educated many of the British upper classes in her governess days, can put the pieces together.
Until I began rummaging nostalgically around in this period, I had thought my supply of these gentle, civilized crime stories was exhausted. How wrong I was! It will be a pleasure to search out, read, and share some of the dozens of lesser-known lights from this incredibly productive age.
George Gently has been running on many PBS stations this year. Its also now available on NETFLIX and the latest season six is released this weekend.ReplyDelete
Also ACORN TV has George Gently and usually gets the seasons before other video streaming channels.
Poirot and Marple are also available on ACORN TV - ALL of POIROT including the last eps.
Hi Southern Gal. Acorn TV is fantastic! I added it as a channel to my Roku, and between it and Netflix, I get just about any mystery I could ask for. Thanks for bringing up Acorn.ReplyDelete
Several readers have identified 'Clara Benson' as a fake; the books appear to have been written recently and contain many anachronisms.ReplyDelete
Who is Clara Benson, then? I enjoyed her books regardless of her identity.ReplyDelete
JonJ: Interesting comment. An avid fan of the genre, I too grew more and more suspicious of 'Clara Benson' as a 19th century author. Not only the "many anachronisms" but also the writing techniques, rhythm, structures and even phrasing. As a university writing coach, I often find my enjoyment of lighter reading marred by my innate scanning of the text. Benson's works intrigue me and entertain me but do not fool me with the now-and-then 'awkward segues' so reminiscent of earlier fiction.ReplyDelete
Yes, to the Clara Benson note above. Here is the site where the author explains her motivations: http://clarabenson.com/authors-note/ReplyDelete
Also, the George Gently series starring Martin Shaw first aired in 2007, not the 1960s.