The Golden Age of Detective Fiction are fictional crime stories written roughly between the two world wars. They refer to a type of fiction which was predominant in the 1920s and 1930s but had been written since at least 1911 and is still being written today. These often light-hearted stories had a few conventions and character types, where some of the pleasures where trying to solve the mystery alongside the narrative. The writer would often have ‘rules’ they played by, creating a game for the readers that included red herrings, mis-guiding and the least possible suspect as the perpetrator. The most common settings were secluded country estates (with a limited number of suspects), locked rooms and seemingly supernatural occurrences, which would all be tidily explained during the dénouement.
The genre of crime novels, or detective novels can be traced to Edgar Allen Poe’s mystery The Murders in the Rue Morgue (1841), with the introduction of the first amateur detective, C. Auguste Dupin. He provided the blueprint, which influenced Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes – who also casts a very long and dark shadow. Consulting detectives worked closely with the (then emerging and establishing Metropolitan forces) but were not professionally bound to act. Some of Sherlocks stories are more adventure thrills than a detective story, but the introduction of keen observation, logical reasoning and analytical dissection was explain, if not available for the reader to work out.
During the 20’s certain rules and formats started to emerge, and were further codified by the best writers of the genre. The idea of ‘playing fair’ to the reader can be summed up in the oath to enter the Detection Club (formed around 1929? – present)
Do you promise that your detectives shall well and truly detect the crimes presented to them, using those wits which it may please you to bestow upon them and not placing reliance on, nor making use of Divine Revelation, Feminine Intuition, Mumbo-Jumbo, Jiggery-Pokery, Coincidence or the Act of God?
At it’s heart, a good detective story is like a puzzle or game. Satisfactorily explaining what seems at first a baffling mystery is revealed through a logical process, clear and unambiguous (for the most part). The flip-side to this, is sometimes the characters can be neglected to move a plot along.
Although detective fiction (or crime fiction) has a long history, the St Helens Detective Club will be looking particularly to the interwar periods of the Golden Age, creating our own mystery set in the library.