Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Edmund Crispin's Life

Edmund Crispin was the pseudonym of Bruce Montgomery, an English crime writer and composer. He was born in 1921 of Scots-Irish parentage and educated at Merchant Taylors’. Declared unfit for war service, he was able to study French and German at St. John’s College, Oxford, where he became friends with Kingsley Amis and Philip Larkin. He graduated from the college in 1943, with a BA in modern languages, having for two years been its organist and choirmaster. He then spent two years as a teacher at Shrewsbury School, and in 1944 published the first of nine Gervase Fen novels, The Case of the Gilded Fly (coming out later this year in Vintage). Montgomery then gave up his teaching post at Shrewsbury and moved to Devon, where he lived a rather solitary existence immersed in his writing and music. Apart from writing the Gervase Fen novels, Crispin also composed music under his own name, Bruce Montgomery. He composed choral and orchestral works, songs, and film music, including several scores for Gerald Thomas's Carry On series and films based on Richard Gordon's humorous novels.

Crispin also anthologized seven volumes of science fiction, and was an early pioneer of the genre. As well as his interest in science fiction, Crispin became a well respected reviewer of crime, writing for the Sunday Times from 1967 until his death in 1978.

In previous editions of his books, Crispin listed his recreations as swimming, excessive smoking, Shakespeare, the operas of Wagner and Strauss, idleness and cats. His antipathies were dogs, the French Film, the Renaissance of the British Film, psychoanalysis, the psychological-realistic crime story, and the contemporary theatre.

He married his secretary, Ann, when he was 55, just two years before he died from alcohol related problems in 1978.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Love Gladys Mitchell, try Edmund Crispin

Edmund Crispin's books are great and have a wonderful main characters Gervase Fen.

Gervase Fen is an Oxford don, who is Professor of English Language and Literature and fellow of the fictional St Christopher’s College. Fen is as eccentric as they come, combining a peculiar range of character traits with a particular penchant for alcohol. His normal attire of choice is an enormous raincoat, paired with extraordinary hats. Crispin reportedly based the renegade don upon the Oxford professor W.E. Moore. The exploits of this unlikely, though eloquent detective are guaranteed to provide amusement.

Vintage already has published three novels starring Gervase Fen:

Holy Disorders
Love Lies Bleeding
The Moving Toyshop

My favourite is The Moving Toyshop and we have three more coming out in October 2009. Look out for them.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Q&A with Gladys Mitchell from ‘In Praise of Gladys Mitchell’
published in the Armchair Detective, Volume 9 No. 4, October 1976

Q. Dame Beatrice, your detective, is a marvellous imaginative creation – how did she come about? Was it evolution or sudden total inspiration, pure invention or was she based on someone? Has she changed at all since 1929?
A. Physically – that is to say, in appearance – Dame Beatrice is based on two delightful and most intelligent ladies I knew in my youth. Her mannerisms and costume and her formidable brains are entirely my own invention. When I began to write Speedy Death I had no intention of making her my detective. She simply ‘took over’ and I became so superstitious about her that I would not dare to have another detective! Personally, I should hate to meet her in real life.

Q. You were a member of the Detection Club (a founder-member?). Have you any specially happy or picturesque memories of the Detection Club, its meetings, its ritual, and your fellow members?
A. Apart from the brilliant, witty, charming and highly intellectual Helen Simpson, I liked Freeman Wills Crofts and Anthony Berkeley best of the early members, and later the delightful boy (as I thought and think of him) Edmund Crispin, always so courteous, happy and kind. I myself was one of the earliest members of the club, though not a founder. The main rules, according to the ritual, were that we should furnish all necessary clues to our murderers, ignore sinister Chinamen and poisons unknown to science, promise never to steal other people's plots, whether these were disclosed to us under the influence of drink or otherwise, and (as it began as a dining-club, although we had premises later) not to eat peas with a knife or put our feet on the dining table. I remember that at one annual dinner some important ‘prop’ or other for the initiation ceremony had been left at the club rooms to which, of course, nobody had thought to bring his or her key, and we took an Assistant Commissioner of Police with us to break into the house. He was a co-opted member, but did not seem to be exactly delighted to join us in committing the crime of breaking and entering, particularly as there were other daytime occupants of the building besides ourselves.

Q. Dame Beatrice's omniscience annoys some people. How often is she wrong? Do knowing readers delight in pointing out her (or your) mistakes?

A. I am not a bit surprised that she annoys people, because she never is wrong. Besides, she has a god-like quality of being much larger than life, and of being so much superior to ordinary people that she can afford to be benign and kind even to my murderers, who seldom get hanged (in the old days) or suffer life imprisonment (in the later books). People who write to me usually do so to point out errors of fact. A Scottish lady told me that one cannot put a car on the train from London to Glasgow, an Irish priest pointed out my misuse of Hibernian dialect, and a very irate Scotsman complained that no elderly female could perform the feats I attributed to Dame Beatrice. As, at the age of seventy-four-plus I can perform most of them myself, including throwing a knife, and hitting a postcard ten times out of ten at twenty-five paces with a rifle (a thing I don't believe I have ever mentioned as being one of her accomplishments, as her favourite weapon is a revolver), I think the gentleman is wrong.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Classic crime adding to lost classics

There was a great article on the Bookseller website today about 'lost classics' mentioning the Vintage Classic Crime list:

Vintage is swelling the ranks of its retro-styled classic crime list this month, adding Gladys Mitchell to its roster of authors. When Last I Died, Tom Brown's Body and The Saltmarsh Murders, all starring psychoanalyst detective Mrs Bradley and released this month, will be joined by more of Mitchell's 67 crime novels in due course. Three more Edmund Crispin books are also scheduled for release later in 2009. The paperback of A A Milne's The Red House Mystery, a Vintage Christmas gift title, is set for August.

Read the whole article at:

The Detection Club

THE DETECTION CLUB was formed in 1930 by a group of British mystery writers including Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Freeman Wills Crofts, Arthur Morrison, John Rhode and H. C. Bailey. Anthony Berkeley was instrumental in setting up the Club and the first president was G. K. Chesterton. There was a fanciful initiation ritual, with an oath that was probably written by either G. K. Chesterton or Dorothy L. Sayers, and was administered by the club president, known as The Ruler, and the Club held regular dinner meetings in London.

In addition to meeting for dinners and helping one another with technical aspects in their individual writing, the members of the club agreed to adhere to a code of ethics in their writing to give the reader a fair chance at guessing the guilty party. These fair play 'rules' were summarised by one of the members, Ronald Knox, in an introduction to an anthology of detective stories.


I. The criminal must be someone mentioned in the early part of the story, but must not be anyone whose thoughts the reader has been allowed to follow.
II. All supernatural or preternatural agencies are ruled out as a matter of course. To solve a detective problem by such means would be like winning a race on the river by the use of a concealed motor-engine.
III. Not more than one secret room or passage is allowable.
IV. No hitherto undiscovered poisons may be used, nor any appliance which will need a long scientific explanation at the end.
V. No Chinaman must figure in the story.
VI. No accident must ever help the detective, nor must he ever have an unaccountable intuition which proves to be right
VII. The detective must not himself commit the crime.
VIII. The detective must not light on any clues are not instantly produced for the inspection of the reader
IX. The stupid friend of the detective, the Watson, must not conceal any thoughts which pass through his mind; his intelligence must be slightly, but very slightly, below that of the average reader.
X. Twin brothers, and doubles generally, must not appear unless we have been duly prepared for them.

They were never intended as more than guidelines, and not all the members took them seriously. The Club continues to exist, although the fair play rules have been considerably relaxed.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Gladys Mitchell's life

With Gladys Mitchell's novels republished I thought it would be nice to find out more about her. Here is a biography of this wonderful author:

Gladys Maude Winifred Mitchell was born in Cowley, Oxfordshire, in 1901. She graduated in history from University College London in 1921 and then became a teacher of history, English and games at St Paul’s School in Brentford, later transferring to St Anne’s Senior Girls’ School in Ealing, where she taught until 1939. She began to write novels in 1926, after obtaining an external diploma in European History from University College. She published at least one novel a year, while continuing to teach until her retirement, when she moved to Corfe Mullen, in Dorset. She never married.

Mitchell was a member of the Middlesex Education Association, the British Olympic Association, the Crime Writer’s Association, PEN and the Society of Authors. In 1976, Mitchell received the Crime Writers’ Association Silver Dagger Award. Her hobbies included architecture and writing poetry. She studied the works of Sigmund Freud and her interest in witchcraft was encouraged by her friend, the detective novelist, Helen Simpson.

Her first novel, Speedy Death, was published in 1929 and introduced the popular character Mrs Bradley, who became the heroine of a further sixty-five crime novels. Mitchell also wrote under the pseudonyms of Malcolm Torrie and Stephen Hockaby.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Welcome to Classic Crime

This first Classic Crime blog coincides with the publication of three of Gladys Mitchell’s novels:

The Saltmarsh Murders
Tom Brown’s Body
When Last I Died

Starring the wonderful Mrs Bradley – an unconventional part-time detective and full-time Freudian – these quick-witted, clever mysteries come from the golden age of crime writing.

Let us know who your favourite crime writer is and what you think of our Classic crime books.