Golden Age of Detective Fiction Forum

January 28, 2009

Sayers’ Gaudy Night — and Chandler

On the Poe’s Deadly Daughters weblog, Elizabeth Zelvin
selects her favorite mystery authors — and there’s not a
man among them:

http://tinyurl.com/bdp5ke

“My feminist dander is up, and I’m ready to charge to the
defense of the traditional and especially the character-driven
mystery, as well as the matrilineage of mysteries by women.”


Dorothy L. Sayers,
Gaudy Night
The presiding genius of the Detective Club during the Golden Age of mystery in the 1930s, Sayers reached her peak in this mystery without a murder that is also a richly textured novel, which I believe earned her the right to be considered the mother of the character-driven mystery. I’ve posted this opinion elsewhere, but it bears saying again. The key passage is one in which Harriet Vane asks Lord Peter Wimsey for advice about her novel.

“‘Well,’ said Harriet….”I admit that Wilfrid is the world’s worst goop. But if he doesn’t conceal the handkerchief, where’s my plot?’
[Peter suggests a way to define Wilfrid’s character that would give him motivation for concealing the handkerchief.] ….’He’d still be a goop, and a pathological goop, but he would be a bit more consistent.’
‘Yes–he’d be interesting. But if I give Wilfrid all those violent and lifelike feelings, he’ll throw the whole book out of balance.’
‘You would have to abandon the jig-saw kind of story and write a book about human beings for a change.’
….’It would hurt like hell.’
‘What would that matter, if it made a good book?'”

I suspect that Sayers and her muse had precisely this conversation in her head, and Gaudy Night was the result. The creation of Harriet and Sayers’s increasingly three-dimensional portrayal of her both in relation to Lord Peter and grappling with her own dilemmas regarding her work and what kind of life to choose ushered in the transition of the traditional mystery from primarily a puzzle to a puzzle embedded in a character-driven novel.”

Mike Tooney

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June 25, 2008

What makes a ‘Cozy’?

Filed under: Cozies,Sub-genres — Jon @ 8:07 pm
Tags: ,

Since GA detective novels frequently are classified as “cozies” I’ve become interested in just what a “cozy” is supposed to be. Here’s what I found on cozy-mystery.com (by the way, I saw a link there to “The Bloody Tower”!).

Cozies: 1. solved by an amateur sleuth, preferably a woman (with a college degree)

2. takes place in village or small town

3. characters are likeable (except victim and presumably murderer)

4. no graphic violence, profanity, explicit sex

I suppose Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple books would meet almost all these criteria, though a book like Sleeping Murder has a rather unpleasant subject buried under the genteel tone, when you think about it. But whether or not GA mysteries are “cozy” by definition, they offer a contrast to many crime novels today with #4.

How much of the appeal of GAD novels is found in #4 and that related nostalgia for past times, how much in the pure puzzle format itself, which can, presumably, flower as well in coarser environments? We hear a lot of criticism (often justified) of the GA genre for its retrogade values, but isn’t there some appeal there too for many readers, precisely in that traditionalism, or some aspects of it, at least? Even something that might have not been seen as “cozy” back then therefore might seem to be such in some ways to us today.

I’ve been looking at Reginald Hill lately and am trying to think how to place him in relation to the Golden Age. James and Rendell sometimes get called cozy today (much to their chagrin, I would imagine). Hill definitely is less genteel. Aspects of Dalziel rather remind me of Porter’s Dover, though obviously the former has the keener brain. “Deadheads,” from the early 80s, has a large share of humor, but has moments of serious reflection as well. The focus is on a puzzle, which seems to involve multiple murder in a rather “gamey” GA fashion. Sexual banter and racial and sexual inclusion (Indian and gay cops, feminist cop wife) are not traditional, but, on the other hand, Hill seems to have greatly expanded these elements in later books (just concerning the “f-word,” it seems to occur in its variations many times in later Hill books, where in Deadheads the word has not yet made its appearance in any form). In this Hill from the early 80s, at least, I actually don’t feel desperately removed from the world of the Golden age puzzle novel (which encomapssed the police procedural, at least with Henry Wade).

The Catalogue of Crime did little with Hill, evidently having been sufficiently put off by two novels, Child’s Play and Ruling Passion. On the other hand, Keating picked A Pinch of Snuff (about snuff films? — very uncosy!) as one of 100 best mysteries.

Curt

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