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Alibis in the Attic

June 18, 2017

I’ve loved crime fiction since reading The Hound of the Baskervilles as a grammar school boy in Bolton, Lancashire, back in ’59. I went on to read all of Conan Doyle’s other Sherlock Holmes stories, both long and short, before exploring the genre generally.

One of my favourite contemporary crime writers is Martin Edwards, author of the Lake District Mysteries (latest, The Dungeon House) and a series set in Liverpool. He is also a leading authority on the genre and his ground-breaking study of detective fiction The Golden Age of Murder (2015) won the Edgar, Agatha, H.R.F. Keating and Macavity awards.  Martin is Chair of the Crime Writers’ Association and President of the Detection Club.  He is also series consultant to the British Library’s Crime Classics.

So you can imagine how pleased I was to learn from his excellent blog, ‘Do you write under your own name?’, that he’d be hosting an event called ‘Alibis in the Attic’ at Gladstone’s Library, Hawarden, Flintshire, to celebrate the official launch of the British Crime Writing Archives there, over the weekend of Friday 9th June to Sunday 11th June 2017.

I’d met Martin at events quite a few times over the last eight years but this promised to be the best yet, with a great line-up of speakers, and Gladstone’s Library is only just down the road from my home on the Dee Estuary. So, urged on by my partner, Maureen, I booked my place as a non-residential deligate (many from farther afield booked rooms as Gladstone’s is a residential library).

Gosh, what a venue! Gladstone’s Library, founded by the Victorian statesman and four-times Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone in 1894, and now housed in a gorgeous English Gothic style premises with lovely grounds dating from 1902, seems a world apart from the hurly-burly of today.  Indeed, I seemed to spend the whole weekend back in the inter-war Golden Age with the shades of Sayers, Christie and Berkeley ever-present; also Sherlock himself from the days of gas lamps and hansom cabs, of course!

Yes, there was an enthralling talk about our favourite “consulting detective” given by that splendid Sherlockian expert, author, playwright and editor, David Stuart Davies. I hadn’t known before that a meeting with Oscar Wilde in 1889 had helped Conan Doyle shape the character of Holmes.

Martin Edwards gave a talk titled ‘The Detection Club and CWA: Criminally Good Social Networks’, and explained how the archives of these two organisations had been combined at Gladstone’s Library to form the British Crime Writing Archives.

David Brawn from HarpurCollins talked about publishing Agatha Christie. Ann Cleeves talked about the adaptation for television of her Vera and Shetland novels on ITV and BBC respectively.

Murder by poison was a grisly feature of the Victorian age and Linda Stratmann gave a fascinating talk citing cases that prompted scientific advances and brought fame to forensic toxicologists.

Kate Charles, a former Chair of the Crime Writers’ Association, talked about clerical sleuthing. Kate Ellis, whose contemporary crime mysteries have historical roots, talked about how archaeology informs her work.  Rob Davies gave a very informative talk on the British Library and later, with Martin Edwards, discussed the Crime Classics series.

Stella Duffy OBE gave a tremendously punchy presentation on the New Zealand crime writer Ngaio Marsh, whose unfinished 1940s novel Money in the Morgue she’s been tasked with completing – a tall order with only four chapters and a page or two of notes to go on. Question: Why did Ngaio abandon this promising book?  Stella has heard different theories…

There were two interactive murder mysteries over the weekend, ‘The Glass Room Murder’ hosted by Ann Cleeves and ‘Death at the Dig’ hosted by Kate Ellis. And, with actors playing the suspects, tremendous brain-teasing fun they both were!

The weekend concluded with a panel event in which Alibis speakers discussed Golden Age detective fiction.

On my feedback form I summarised ‘Alibis in the Attic’ as “hugely interesting and enjoyable”. And I’m sure the British Crime Writing Archives will prove an invaluable resource for students of the genre.

I should just like to add that the staff of Gladstone’s Library were wonderful.

 

Copyright © Paul Beech 2017

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From → General, Reviews

2 Comments
  1. Great to see a post from you, Paul, and a great one at that. Hope all is well.

    Best regards,
    Pat ☺

    • Thanks Pat, glad you like this. I’m one of those poets, like the late, great Philip Larkin, who love crime fiction.

      Yes, we’re fine thanks. Just had a lovely friend from Scotland, an author and poet, staying with us for a couple of days, and we’ve been showing her around – Parkgate (on the Wirral), Conwy and Llandudno (in Wales). Scorching weather – yesterday, 21st June, the summer solstice, was our hottest June day in the UK since 1976, 34.5°C, though here on Deeside we had thunder later.

      Hope you’re enjoying a good summer over in Florida.

      Take care – fond regards,

      Paul

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