Lois Austen-Leigh’s Incredible Crime

In this week’s Dispatches from the Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle returns to the Golden Age of detective fiction with this crime classic

Before Colin Dexter breathed new life into the genre with his Inspector Morse novels published from 1975 onwards, the Oxbridge crime novel was already a sizeable subgenre within detective fiction: there was the Queen of Crime Dorothy L. Sayers, whose Gaudy Night (1935) had helped to blaze a trail for the Oxford crime novel, and in her wake, Bruce Montgomery, under the pen name Edmund Crispin, wrote mystery novels set in Oxford, where he was studying for a degree when he wrote his first, The Case of the Gilded Fly, in 1943. Crispin’s creation, the amateur sleuth Gervase Fen, is also an Oxford don and English Literature professor at the university.

But before these, there was Lois Austen-Leigh’s quartet of Cambridge crime novels, of which the 1931 novel The Incredible Crime (British Library Crime Classics) was the first. Now, the British Library have brought the novel back into print as part of their Crime Classics series. Lois Austen-Leigh (1883-1968), who was the great-great-niece of Jane Austen, has languished forgotten in old libraries and second-hand bookshops for over half a century, her novels known only to aficionados of the Golden Age of British crime fiction, lasting around two decades between the two world wars. Even then, as Robert Davies has noted, even experts in the field often haven’t heard of Austen-Leigh.

Read more

Dr John Dollar: The First Criminal Psychologist in Fiction

In this week’s Dispatches from the Secret Library column, Dr Oliver Tearle considers E. W. Hornung’s forgotten ‘crime doctor’, John Dollar.

Dr John Dollar is a fictional detective with a difference. He is, as one of the characters in The Crime Doctor puts it, ‘a medical expert in criminology’. He is the forerunner to the fictional criminal psychologists we see in modern police procedural television dramas, probably most famously Cracker, the ITV drama created by Jimmy McGovern and starring Robbie Coltrane as Dr Edward ‘Fitz’ Fitzgerald, a criminal psychologist who helps the Manchester police to investigate crimes.

Read more

A Summary and Analysis of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s ‘The Speckled Band’

By Dr Oliver Tearle (Loughborough University)

The Adventure of the Speckled Band’ is one of the most popular Sherlock Holmes story written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and Doyle himself recognised that many readers would include ‘The Speckled Band’ among their list of favourite Holmes outings. It’s easy to read Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories and enjoy them, with no additional analysis deemed necessary.

But closer inspection reveals its links to previous detective fiction and the reasons for its status as one of the finest of Doyle’s short stories.

Read more

A Summary and Analysis of Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘The Purloined Letter’

By Dr Oliver Tearle (Loughborough University)

Edgar Allan Poe (1809-49) often gets the credit for inventing the detective story. Although some earlier candidates have been proposed – such as E. T. A. Hoffmann’s ‘Das Fräulein von Scuderi’ (1819), and ‘The Secret Cell’ (1837), written by Poe’s own publisher, William Evans Burton – it was Poe who really showed what could be done with the detective story form.

‘The Purloined Letter’ (1844) is one of three ground-breaking stories Poe wrote featuring C. Auguste Dupin, his amateur sleuth without whom the world would never have had Sherlock Holmes or, one suspects, virtually any other fictional detective.

Read more

Five Fascinating Facts about Agatha Christie

Interesting facts from the life of Agatha Christie (1890-1976), prolific author of detective novels

As it’s Agatha Christie’s birthday today – she was born 15 September 1890 – we felt it was time we honoured one of the most popular novelists who has ever lived. So here are five great facts about the life and work of Agatha Christie.

1. Agatha Christie is the bestselling writer of all time, with over 2 billion novels sold. The history of detective fiction is a history of bestselling writers – Conan Doyle, Dorothy L. Sayers, and more recently, crime writers like James Patterson and Patricia Cornwell – but Dame Agatha Mary Clarissa Christie (to give her her full name and title) is the most successful of them all.

Read more