Last’s week’s post began my list of the top ten mystery novels written during the golden age of mysteries, the 1920’s and 30’s. Some great authors have already made the list, Dashiell Hammett, Dorothy L. Sayers and Agatha Christie. Let’s add to this list with picks five, six and seven.
Seven. The Three Coffins also released as The Hollow Man, by John Dickson Carr. Carr was master of the locked room mystery, in which a detective solves a seemingly impossible crime. This novel is considered his masterpiece and was selected as the best locked-room mystery of all time by a panel of 17 mystery authors and reviewers.
After a promising start, I found the novel to be overly complex and forced into the locked room gambit. Therefore the solution was less than satisfying to me, but who am I to argue with so many experts? After all I promised my top ten list wouldn’t be just my favorites.
Six. Fer-de-Lance by Rex Stout. Stout’s literary career began writing for pulp magazines, publishing romance, adventure and detective stories. In Paris, in 1929, he wrote his first book How Like a God, an unusual psychological story written in the second person. He returned to America in 1934 and began writing detective fiction. His first was Fer-de-lance which introduced large than life, Nero Wolfe and his assistant and narrator, Archie Goodwin.
The fer-de-lance is among the most dreaded snakes known to man, which almost stopped me. When someone makes a present of one to Nero Wolfe, Archie Goodwin knows he’s getting dreadfully close to solving the devilishly clever murders of an immigrant and a college president. Wolf plays a snake charmer in a case with twists and turns and a whistling a seductive tune he hopes will catch a killer who’s still got poison in his heart.
Five. Miss Pinkerton by Mary Roberts Reinhart. Reinhart has often been called America’s Agatha Christie, although she published her first novel in 1914, fourteen years before Christie’s first. A prolific author, she was famous before the golden age and remained popular well beyond that era. She’s considered the source of the phrase, “The butler did it,” which came from her novel The Door, in which the butler actually did commit murder, though she never used the phrase. She also is considered to have invented the “Had I but known” school of mystery writing.
I enjoyed Miss Pinkerton, a classic who-done-it and often classified as one of the first cozy mysteries. Herbert Wynne is found dead, with a bullet in the forehead. The obvious explanation is murder. But how could it be when the only possible suspect is Herbert’s frail Aunt Juliet? The police solicit Nurse Adams, bored by hospital routine she tends to Aunt Juliet and is jokingly given the title of Miss Pinkerton, after the famous detective agency. The nurse probes into the mystery and a second body is soon found. Mystery fans will love this novel.
This completes the second half of the top ten list of golden age mysteries. How many make up your top ten?