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Curious Facts about the Golden Age of Detective Fiction

In this week’s Dispatches from The Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle investigates the fascinating facts behind some of the greatest detective novels

The rise of detective fiction is a fascinating topic (previously, I’ve chosen 10 of the greatest examples of the genre), and it’s no surprise that a book telling the story of classic crime fiction in 100 books should yield many surprising and interesting facts. This is certainly the case with Martin Edwards’ The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books (British Library Crime Classics), a beautifully produced book from the British Library which charts the rise of crime fiction during the genre’s ‘Golden Age’ of the first half of the twentieth century.

Over the course of 24 entertaining and accessible chapters, which are based around various themes (including London-based crime fiction, crime fiction in the countryside, the seemingly ‘impossible crime’ of the locked-room mystery, parodies and humorous examples of the genre), Martin Edwards considers some of the most emblematic and readable examples of crime and detective fiction written between 1900 and 1950 (loosely).

As well as telling the story of crime fiction as an overall genre, Edwards also offers mini-histories of not only his 100 chosen novels but also the authors who wrote them. The Story of Classic Crime is packed full of curious biographical trivia, delving into the alternative lives Read the rest of this entry

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Five Little-Known Facts about Britain’s Literary Heritage

In this week’s Dispatches from The Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle offers a taste of the literary trivia on offer in his new book about literary Britain

Today, this blog turns five years old. I’d like to thank everyone who’s supported it since its beginnings on 1 December 2012, whenever you happened to discover us. And as it’s our five-year anniversary, today seems like a nice moment to tell you a bit more about my new book, which is full of interesting literary trivia about Britain, and which I unveiled in a fact-filled blog post last month.

British history is steeped in interesting literary associations and connections. My new book, Britain by the Book: A Curious Tour of Our Literary Landscape (John Murray), gathers together some of the lesser-known and more surprising facts about Britain’s literary past. For instance, did you know…

A Manchester librarian invented the world’s most famous thesaurus as a way of coping with depression. The terms ‘Roget’ and ‘thesaurus’ have become, happily, synonymous: although dictionaries of synonyms existed before Peter Mark Roget (1779-1869) published his Thesaurus in 1852, Roget was the first person to apply the term ‘thesaurus’ to such a book. By the time Read the rest of this entry

The Book of Forgotten Authors: Forgotten Writers Who Are Worth Reading

In this week’s Dispatches from The Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle reads Christopher Fowler’s enthralling account of the writers who time forgot

I’ve always been fond of the curious coincidence that in the 1960s there was a writer of novels about boxing who wrote under the name Frank Bruno. Or that Robert Shaw, who turned in a booming performance as Henry VIII in Fred Zinnemann’s superlative film of Robert Bolt’s play A Man for All Seasons, was a successful novelist as well as a fine actor. The literary associations of such names have now largely been lost, but it’s great fun to recover them and re-examine the work of the authors in question.

So I was thrilled to receive a copy of Christopher Fowler’s new book, The Book of Forgotten Authors, which bears a glorious pink cover dotted with silhouettes of now-unfamiliar literary figures, and salvages 99 names from the mists of writerly obscurity and puts them back under the spotlight. And some of the revelations on offer here are truly fascinating. Read the rest of this entry