British Golden Age Authors

Some prominent authors and their most famous detectives along with novel titles and plot summaries. For right now I’ve only listed authors and titles that I am familiar with and have read.

Agatha Christie

One of the most prolific and popular mystery writers of the Golden Age and beyond, standing the test of time better than more talented writers who eventually fell by the wayside. She wrote some 80 novels and a handful of plays during her long career and created the second most famous detective next to Sherlock Holmes: the Belgian Monsieur Hercule Poirot.

Detectives: Monsieur Hercule Poirot, Miss Jane Marple, Tommy and Tuppence Beresford--who started out as unlikely spies and tend to still find trouble on occasion.

Titles: Nemesis—Miss Marple flushes out a murderer in a small English village where three murders have been committed in the name of love.

Peril at End House—Miss Buckley, the mistress of End House, has suffered through several “accidents” that convince her that someone is trying to kill her. Hercule Poirot is on the case, determined to prevent a murder.

H.C. Bailey

A war correspondent who wrote detective stories as relief from his work. Tended to write short stories rather than long novels but he did write a few. Liked to administer instant justice to his criminals, usually killing them off before the justice system can even touch them.

Detective: Mr. Reginald Fortune, along with his chauffeur Sam. Mr. Fortune is a surgeon who frequently performs autopsies for Scotland Yard, hence his connection with the police and his frequent involvement in solving cases. Has been known to run a killer to ground and then off a cliff.

Titles: Call Mr. Fortune—a collection of stories featuring Reggie Fortune.

Mr. Fortune Objects—a collection of stories featuring Reggie Fortune, including “The broken toad”, “The angel's eye”, “The little finger”, “The three bears”, “The long dinner”, “The yellow slugs.”

John Dickson Carr (a.k.a. Carter Dickson)

An American expatriate living in Britain. He wrote British Golden Age detective novels very believably and was the only American author invited to join the Detection Club (a club whose members consisted of the elite of crime writing. They held regular meetings and wrote novels together, such as The Floating Admiral, each author taking a chapter or so). He specialized in the locked room mystery and was a bit erratic in the quality of his work, some novels being particularly good and others just plain awful. There is a great John Dickson Carr bibliography online that lists all of his work with plot summaries and value judgements (whether it is a good novel or a bad one). Although the value judgements will lead the new reader to the better works, I advise you to make up your own mind about the quality. The plot summaries are really handy and are my favorite part of the site.

Detectives: Dr. Gideon Fell, Sir Henry Merrivale

Titles: Hags Nook—an atmospheric novel in which the legend of the Starberths haunts the village that lies in the shadow of Chaterham Prison. Dr. Fell discovers the truth behind the legends after Martin Starberth is murdered.

The Problem of the Wire Cage—an obnoxious young rake is found strangled in the middle of a tennis court with only his own footprints and those of the person who found the body in view.

G.K. Chesterton

A theologian who wrote seriously on the subject of Christian studies but who also wrote immensely popular crime stories featuring priest/detective who sometimes works with a French former master criminal and now member of the police and also stories featuring the fastidious and observant Mr. Pond.

Detectives: Father Brown, Flambeau-the criminal turned police officer, and Mr. Pond

Titles: The Innocence of Father Brown—a collection of short stories featuring Father Brown

The Paradoxes of Mr. Pond—a collection of short stories featuring Mr. Pond.

R. Austin Freeman

A doctor and a writer like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. He wrote about fictional forensic techniques that later became reality and was a pioneer of the inverted tale.

Detective: Dr. Thorndyke, a doctor and a lawyer--a medico-legal detective--who uses forensic science (much of it dreamed up by Freeman but later similar techniques came to be used) to solve crimes. He finds his Watson in Jervis, another doctor/lawyer.

Titles: The Red Thumb Mark—a plot dealing with the “incontrovertible evidence” of fingerprints. A fingerprint used as evidence in a crime is not what it seems.

The Singing Bone—a collection of short stories featuring Dr. Thorndyke.

Ngaio Marsh

A transplant to Britain from New Zealand, Ngaio Marsh was a mystery writer who was very fond of the theater. Theatrical people and settings appear in a great deal of her work.

Detective: Inspector Roderick Alleyn of Scotland Yard

Titles: A Man Lay Dead—A guest at a country house party is killed during a mock-murder game and the butler goes missing. Inspector Alleyn investigates.

Death at the Bar—a lawyer is killed by a stray dart during a darts game at a local pub. Inspector Alleyn investigates to see if it was an accident or murder.

Dorothy L. Sayers

A serious literary critic who just happened to write mysteries in her spare time. Somewhat to her dismay her mystery stories became more popular than her serious work, the Christian literature that was her scholarly area of study.

Detective: Lord Peter Whimsey, the second son of the Duke of Denver, along with his faithful servant sidekick Bunter. Whimsey fought in WWI with Bunter under his command. The two formed a bond in the war and Whimsey hired him as his valet after the war was over. At the end of a case Lord Peter oftentimes has horrible flashbacks of the war resulting from the guilt brought on by helping to condemn a person for a crime. Bunter is the only one who can help ease Whimsey’s suffering during these times.

Harriet Vane (Whimsey’s detective work exonerates her from the murder of her lover in Strong Poison).

Titles: Gaudy Night—Harriet Vane revisits her college at Oxford and must discover the writer of poison pen letters that are tearing the small women’s community apart.

The Nine Tailors—Lord Peter must solve a brutal murder amongst a group of church bell ringers in a tiny country village.

Margery Allingham

Came from a family of writers. She, like Dorothy L. Sayers, tired of the conventions of Golden Age detective fiction and took a break for some years but was drawn back to it and wrote more novels and stories featuring her aristocratic detective Albert Campion.

Detective: Albert Campion and his faithful servant sidekick Lugg, who was formerly a criminal. Campion is not his proper name but one that he assumes in order to protect the reputation of his family, who, as it is implied, is extremely wealthy, aristocratic and powerful. Like Peter Whimsey, Campion assumes an air of incompetence in order to investigate mysteries without arousing suspicion. Campion also has good connections at Scotland Yard, which helps to facilitate his investigations.

Titles: Police at the Funeral—Uncle Andrew Farraday is murdered and the proper Cambridge family is appalled at the lack of taste shown by the murderer. When vicious pranks are pulled around the house it soon becomes very clear that one of them will be next on the murderer’s list.

The Fear Sign—The Pontisbright family legacy is a deadly one and there is more than just murder involved in this tale of legend, witchcraft and superstition.

Ronald A. Knox

That’s Monsignor Knox, thank you…another theologian who was a classic scholar and critic. He respected the detective fiction genre and was a scholar of Holmes as well as a writer.

Title: The Footsteps at the Lock—two cousins, one the direct heir to the family fortune, go off canoeing up the Thames river. Before the trip is over both cousins disappear. Miles Bredon of the Indescribable Insurance Company investigates.

A.A. Milne

Author of the classic Winnie the Pooh children’s books. He wrote several novels for adults, one a rather good Golden Age detective novel called The Red House Mystery.

Detective: Anthony Gillingham

Title: The Red House Mystery—a guest is shot to death at a country house party and all evidence points to the host, who has mysteriously disappeared.

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