Margery Allingham, raised by writer parents, was practically pre-ordained to be a writer. From a very early age she was writing serials, and all kinds of other writing to earn her keep; but talent, of course, is a different animal altogether. Allingham is generally regarded as one of the major names of the British “Golden Age” of detective fiction, and certainly not without reason. Along with Agatha Christie (for whom Allingham had no high regard), Ngaio Marsh, Dorothy L. Sayers and Josephine Tey, she’s one of the writers readers today seem to turn to again and again. Along with Dorothy Sayers, she was also the one to push the envelope of traditional detective fiction, eschewing the puzzle mystery in favor of the more psychological. To me her gift is even more basic: that of lovely prose. In that, Sayers included, she had no equal.
This is the third volume in Crum Creek’s – and Jim Huang’s – very successful succession of books focusing on mystery as a genre. The first one, The 100 Favorite Mysteries of the Century, was a compilation of booksellers’ recommendations of favorite mysteries written between 1900-2000. The second volume, They Died in Vain, was a collection of essays by booksellers about books that were unfairly overlooked. And this volume goes right to the source – the authors – to ask them who was an influence on their writing. Contributors Sandy Balzo (Barbara Michaels/Elizabeth Peters), Terence Faherty (Margery Allingham), Sharon Fiffer (Dorothy L. Sayers), as well as editor Jim Huang, will all be visiting Aunt Agatha’s to help launch this unique and entertaining volume. Below is an essay from the book, reprinted here with permission from Elaine Viets and the Crum Creek Press. I felt especially strongly about this one not only because it’s really funny, but also because Nancy Drew started so many mystery readers on a lifelong, enjoyable path. Thanks, Nancy!
This slim volume can easily be read in an evening, and for any lover of traditional detective fiction, it is practically a must. Not only for insights that James provides into the origins of detective fiction, but the insights it provides into James herself as a working writer, one whose intellect, at age 90 plus, is far from dimmed. In one of the early chapters, discussing the author G.K. Chesterton, she quotes the author of the Father Brown books as saying: “the only thrill, even of a common thriller, is concerned somehow with the conscience and the will.” She goes on to say (and this is really no surprise to any devoted fan of James) that this is her own personal credo as a writer.