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The Golden Age of Detective Fiction

A Brief History

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The Golden Age of Detective Fiction is generally regarded as spanning the years between 1920 and 1939, although Howard Haycraft, who is credited with introducing the phrase insisted the golden age covered only the 1920s.
The golden age is often spoken about in reverential terms, and for good reason, as it saw Agatha Christie introduce Hercule Poirot, Margery Allingham give us Albert Campion and Dorothy L. Sayers, Lord Peter Wimsey. There are of course many other noteworthy authors such as Anthony Berkeley, Freeman Wills Crofts and John Rhode et al.
The 1930s saw the style copied more widely, with authors such as Nicholas Blake, John Dickson Carr and Ngaio Marsh entering the fray and of course the Collins Crime Club. The settings, whilst seen as traditionally English, were to become somewhat formulaic and predictable. The English country house, trains, cruise ships and of course the 'sleepy English village' ultimately personified by Agatha Christie's Miss Marple.

Many golden age writers called upon personal experience for background and settings for their plots. Ngaio Marsh, who was a theatrical producer, regularly used the theatre as a backdrop (pun intended) and Freeman Wills Crofts, who was a railway engineer, either delighted or bored (depending on your persuasion) his readers with anything and everything related to railways.
Whilst some of the most influential Golden Age detective fiction was written during the early period, the prodigious output of many authors meant that quality and consistency invariably suffered later on. The Golden Age theoretically came to an end in 1939, though most of the authors continued to write in the same vein and new authors rooted their style firmly in the Golden Age. Indeed many of today's contemporary authors follow the same patterns and locations of their Golden Age predecessors as well as sticking to The Ten Commandments as set out by Ronald A. Knox.
'A detective story must have as its main interest the unravelling of a mystery; a mystery whose elements are clearly presented to the reader at an early stage in the proceedings, and whose nature is such as to arouse curiosity, a curiosity which is gratified at the end' so wrote Ronald A. Knox in 1929.

This, then, would set the pattern for 'cosy' Golden Age detective fiction writers for many years to come. Whilst this sub-genre was taking hold there was, however, something very much different, and equally important, brewing across the Atlantic, The Hard Boiled School.

Move onto The Hard Boiled School of Detective Fiction
Or see The History of Detective Fiction      Sherlock Holmes

Text © 2004 R.D. Collins


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