Engrossing if occasionally glacial study of the Detection Club, a gathering of British mystery writers who defined the genre.
Himself a writer of crime thrillers, Edwards (The Frozen Shroud, 2013, etc.) comes to the club naturally—though long past its golden age, which ended 65-odd years ago. The original circle, founder Anthony Berkeley projected, would have 13 members—a resonant number that eventually expanded threefold to include such luminaries as Dorothy Sayers, G.K. Chesterton, and Agatha Christie. At the heart of Edwards’ study is the observation that the membership constituted a body of amateur detectives who were not only capable of musing out the facts behind such mysteries as “an ingenious murder committed by means of chocolates injected with nitrobenzene,” but who also embraced true-crime scenarios and made them part of their work, sometimes to the point of courting libel lawsuits. As Edwards writes, with a suitably enticing hook, “Why was Christie haunted by the drowning of the man who adapted her work for the stage? What convinced Sayers of the innocence of a man convicted of battering his wife to death with a poker?” Having set up a fleet of questions, Edwards proceeds to answer them with murder-laced aplomb. He has a nicely naughty sense of humor about it, too, for the well-heeled Detection Club members often poked into business that was more than a little infra dig. As the author writes of one case, a lecherous perp “claimed he was merely offering Irene career advice, although what he knew of testing valves was not reported.” Yet, when the tale turns tragic—not just because of awful crimes, but also because of sad developments in the lives of Sayers and other members—Edwards writes appropriately and well.
Fans of Father Brown, Hercule Poirot, or Lord Peter Wimsey will find much of value in this book—which, though long and sometimes too slow, leaves readers wanting more.