Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Read one, you want to read the next: The Oxford Book of English Detective Stories

    Patricia Craig, ed. The Oxford Book of English Detective Stories (1990) Craig has done wonderful job. A handful of the classics are here (e.g., “Silver Blaze”), and I’ve read work by many of the authors. But about half are new to me, and if the samples indicate their skill, they are underrated, for example Cyril Hare, whose “Miss Burnside’s Dilemma” shows how point of view can be used not only to narrate a crime but also to show its ripple effects.
     The collection covers about half a century, when detective stories concentrated on the puzzle, and the characters were just complicated enough to make both the crime and its discovery believable. What struck me was how little we need to be told of a character to construct an impression of the backstory that grounds motive in reality and method in plausibility. It was as often as not the style, the throw-away phrase or word, that created these impressions, I think because they create a vivid narrator. Make the story-teller sound trustworthy, and we will follow their lead.
     A potato-chip book: when you finish a story, you immediately want to read another. ***

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