The Golden Age of Mystery
I love mystery fiction from the Golden Age—the period between World War I and World War II. Puzzle mysteries—whodunits—predominated. “Fair play”—giving the reader enough clues to solve the mystery with no “jiggery-pokery,” sudden appearances of long-lost twins, or other cheats—mattered. Women crime novelists mattered, too. While the names and works of many male Golden Age mystery authors are forgotten, Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Josephine Tey, Margery Allingham, and Ngaio Marsh are still popular.
Mysterious Mystery Queens
These women were referred to as “The Queens of Mystery” or “The Queens of Crime.” (Tey is often omitted from this list, but I think her works are as well known as her literary sisters. The UK Crime Writers Association voted her novel, The Daughter of Time one of the top 100 mysteries of all time.) I’ve read many of their works, but I haven’t read much about them. I find it easier to lose myself in an author’s novels if I don’t know much about the author’s life.
The Person Behind the Pen
Sometimes, however, I decide to ignore the Wizard’s admonition and, instead, pay attention to the (wo)man behind the curtain. Recently, while browsing the fabulous Chicago independent bookstore, The Book Cellar, I stumbled across Square Haunting, by Francesca Wade. Honestly, I thought it was a book about ghosts.
The Mystery of Proximity
I thought wrong. Square Haunting is about Mecklenburgh Square in London, an address shared by several accomplished women: H.D. (a poet), Jane Harrison (a classicist), Eileen Power (a historian), and Dorothy L. Sayers. That name, Dorothy L. Sayers, sold me on the book. The idea of so many brilliant women inhabiting the same space at the same time, with one of those women being a well-known mystery novelist, fascinated me. I decided I did, after all, want to know more about her, particularly about her life in close proximity to so many other creatives.
I’m expecting (hoping) that reading about Sayer’s experiences in Mecklenburgh Square will enhance my appreciation for her mystery fiction. How about you? Do you find knowing the details of an author’s real-life helps or hinders your enjoyment of the imagined life of their characters? Comment here, on Facebook, or on Twitter.