Blog Archives

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 the rest of this entry


Jane Austen Adaptations Throughout History

By Spencer Blohm

The body of work produced by Jane Austen remains as relevant today as the time period in which it was written. Her keen observations of human nature and human conventions as portrayed through the lens of her times have made her works timeless. And of course, her acute ability to satirize those same conventions has preserved their lasting bite. Over the last century, numerous film adaptations have been created based on Austen’s novels – some faithful to the source material, others perhaps less so, but wherever there is a trace of Austen wit there is always a plot worth following. Read the rest of this entry

The Best Literary Spin-Offs from Elizabeth Bennet’s Housemaid to Sherlock Holmes’ Housekeeper

Martin Davies offers a Christmas guide to not-quite classic fiction

Christmas! Dreary outside, cosy inside – what better than to curl up with a good read? And if you’re in the mood for something reassuringly familiar, something rich but not entirely strange, what better than a tale firmly rooted in a novel you already know and love? Yes, it’s time for you to dip into the world of literary spin-offs, reimagined classics, crazy mash-ups and favourite characters resurrected from the literary grave. In publishing at the moment, standing on the shoulders of giants is all the rage.

Of course, writers have taken inspiration from the works of other writers since the invention of the pen (and probably long before that). But if you can’t tell your Sense and Sensibility (J Austen) from your Sense & Sensibility (J Trollope), here’s a quick gallop through some of the complexities of spin-off fiction. Read the rest of this entry