Welcome to our new Gaslight Crime blog.
As the name suggests, we’ll be focusing partly on crime and thrillers written or set loosely from the Victorian period to the inter-war years of the twentieth century. As John is a great trespasser, we’ll be straying into modern crime fiction that owes some influence to this era. From Wilkie Collins’s sensation novels, to John Buchan’s ‘shockers’ and the Queens of the Golden Age, we love ‘em all. There will also be posts about crime writing research, guest blogs and (not too many) mentions of our own work.
As the festive season approaches we enjoy revisiting classic detective fiction with a Christmas setting. The kind of novels and short stories that transport you to a world of steam trains, snow scenes, log fires and murderous house parties in the English countryside.
One of the best known is Dame Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot’s Christmas. It’s interesting to reflect that it was published in 1939 and so depicted a just vanished world. It contains the classic ingredients of a Golden Age detective novel – a country house party, an enclosed list of suspects with something to hide and even a locked room mystery. It features the return of a prodigal, a device used several times by Christie and the solution is a clever example of her gift for misdirection.
Christie is often criticised these days for lack of depth in her characters. This seems to me to be unfair. She had the ability to convey a character in a vivid thumbnail sketch, combined with a masterly understanding of human nature. Fat crime novels of 400 pages or more are currently fashionable (though this is often helped by a large font and wide spacing). Agatha Christie is a superb example of less is more.
Redemption by the late Jill McGown is a highly recommended Christmas crime novel. (Published in the USA as Murder At The Old Vicarage). She described it as “an homage to Agatha with her kind of setting and a modern, decidedly uncosy twist.” Although the setting was contemporary when it was published in 1988, it already feels nostalgic to escape back to a time where detectives weren’t waving mobile phones and their notebooks were paper.
The story is set around the dark events of Christmas Eve in a snow-bound village which has a castle. The village was inspired by Rockingham in Northamptonshire, a setting Jill McGown knew well. Her complex plots were always wonderfully satisfying puzzles, written with great psychological insight. She wrote 13 novels featuring her engaging detectives Chief Inspector Lloyd and Sergeant Judy Hill as well as 4 standalones. Jill was taught Latin at school by the legendary Colin Dexter, creator of Chief Inspector Morse and her work has a similar feel. Her work deserves to be much more widely known.