150 Favorite Golden Age British Detective Novels:
A Very Personal Selection, by Curt J. Evans

   Qualifications are the writers had to publish their first true detective novel between 1920 and 1941 (the true Golden Age) and be British or close enough (Carr). So writers like, say, R. Austin Freeman, Michael Gilbert and S. S. Van Dine get excluded.

   I wanted to get outside the box a bit and so I’m sure I made what will strike some as some odd choices. This is a personal list. If I were making a totally representative list John Dickson Carr’s The Three Coffins, Nicholas Blake’s The Beast Must Die, Michael Innes’ Lament for a Maker, Anthony Berkeley’s The Poisoned Chocolates Case, Sayers’ Gaudy Night, etc., would all be there). And lists evolve over time. It’s highly likely, for example, that as I read more of Anthony Wynne and David Hume, for example, they would get more listings.

   Also I excluded great novels like And Then There Were None, The Burning Court and Trial and Error, for example, because I felt like they didn’t fully fit the definition of true detective novels. In any list list I would make of great mysteries, they would be there.

   If people conclude from this list that my five favorite Golden Age generation British detective novelists are Christie, Street, Mitchell, Carr and Bruce, that would be fair enough, though I must add that they were very prolific writers, so more listings shouldn’t be so surprising.

   The 150 novels break down by decade as follows:

       1920s 9 (6%)
       1930s 87 (58%)
       1940s 30 (20%)
       1950s and beyond 24 (16%)

   A pretty graphic indicator of my preference for the 1930s!

   Also, of the 61 writers, I believe 40 are men and 21 women — I hope my count is right! — which challenges the conventional view today that most British detective novels of the Golden Age were produced by women. Of these, 31, or just over half, eventually became members of the Detection Club. I exclude a few of these luminaries, such as Ronald Knox and Victor Whitechurch (am I anti-clerical?!).

The Crooked Hinge (1938)
The Judas Window (1938) (as Carter Dickson)
The Reader Is Warned (1939) (as Carter Dickson)
The Man Who Could Not Shudder (1940)
The Case of the Constant Suicides (1941)
The Gilded Man (1942) (as Carter Dickson)
She Died a Lady (1944) (as Carter Dickson)
He Who Whispers (1946)
   ● It’s probably sacrilege not to have The Three Coffins on the list (especially when you have The Gilded Man!), but when I read Coffins I enjoyed it for the horror more than the locked room, which seemed overcomplicated too me (need to reread though).

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd 1926
Murder at the Vicarage 1930
The ABC Murders 1936
Death on the Nile 1937
One, Two, Buckle My Shoe 1940
Five Little Pigs 1942
A Murder Is Announced 1950
The Pale Horse 1961
   ● Haven’t reread The ABC Murders recently; was somewhat disappointed with Murder on the Orient Express when rereading and thus excluded from the list. And Then There Were None regretfully excluded, because I wasn’t sure it really qualifies as a detective story (there’s not really a detective and the solution comes per accidens).

Speedy Death (1929)
The Mystery of a Butcher’s Shop (1929)
The Saltmarsh Murders (1932)
Death at the Opera (1934)
The Devil at Saxon Wall (1935)
St. Peter’s Finger (1938)
The Rising of the Moon (1944)
Late, Late in the Evening (1976)
   ● A true original, but not to everyone’s taste.

The Davidson Case (1929)
Shot at Dawn (1934)
The Corpse in the Car (1935)
Death on the Board (1937)
The Bloody Tower (1938)
Death at the Helm (1941)
Murder, M.D. (1943) (as Miles Burton)
Vegetable Duck (1944)
   ● The Golden Age master of murder means, underrated in my view.

   LEO BRUCE (8)
Case for Three Detectives (1936)
Case with Ropes and Rings (1940)
Case for Sergeant Beef (1947)
Our Jubilee is Death (1959)
Furious Old Women (1960)
A Bone and a Hank of Hair (1961)
Nothing Like Blood (1962)
Death at Hallows End (1965)
   ● In print but underappreciated, he carried on the Golden Age witty puzzle tradition in a tarnishing era for puzzle lovers.

The Case With Nine Solutions (1929)
The Sweepstake Murders (1935)
The Castleford Conundrum (1932)
The Ha-Ha Case (1934)
In Whose Dim Shadow (1935)
   ● An accomplished, knowledgeable puzzler.

Death of An Author (1935)
Policemen in the Precinct (1949)
Murder of a Martinet (1951)
Murder in the Mill-Race (1952)
The Double Turn (1956) (as Carol Carnac)
   ● Has taken a back seat to the Crime Queens, but was very prolific and often quite good (my favorites, as can be seen, are more from the 1950s, when she became a little less convention bound).

   E. R. PUNSHON (5)
Genius in Murder (1932)
Crossword Mystery (1934)
Mystery of Mr. Jessop (1937)
Ten Star Clues (1941)
Diabolic Candelabra (1942)
   ● Admired by Sayers, this longtime professional writer (he published novels for over half a century) is underservingly out of print.

Death of a Ghost (1934)
The Case of the Late Pig (1937)
Dancers in Mourning (1937)
More Work for the Undertaker (1949)
   ● Her imagination tends to overflow the banks of pure detection, but these are very good, genuine puzzles.

G. D. H. and MARGARET COLE (4)
Burglars in Bucks (1930)
The Brothers Sackville (1936)
Disgrace to the College (1937)
Counterpoint Murder (1940)
   ● Clever tales by husband and wife academics not altogether justly classified as “Humdrums.”

The Sea Mystery (1928)
Sir John Magill’s Last Journey (1930)
The Hog’s Back Mystery (1933)
Mystery on Southampton Water (1934)
   ● The “Alibi King,” he’s more paid lip service (particularly for genre milestone The Cask) than actually read today, but at his best he is is worth reading for puzzle fans.

Artists in Crime (1938)
Seath in a White Tie (1938)
Surfeit of Lampreys (1940)
Opening Night (1951)
   ● Art, society and theater all appealingly addressed by a very witty writer, with genuine detection included.

Strong Poison (1930)
The Five Red Herrings (1931)
Have His Carcase (1932)
Murder Must Advertise (1933)
   ● As can be guessed I prefer middle period Sayers — less facetious than earlier books, but also less self-important than later ones.

The Dying Alderman (1930)
No Friendly Drop (1931)
Lonely Magdalen (1940)
A Dying Fall (1955)
   ● Very underrated writer — some other good works (Mist on the Saltings, Heir Presumptive) were left out because they are more crime novels.

Murder in Hospital (1937)
From Natural Causes (1939)
Death in Retirement (1956)
   ● Far less known than the Crime Queens, but a worthy if inconsistent author.

A Question of Proof (1935)
Thou Shell of Death (1936)
Minute for Murder (1949)
   ● His most important book in genre history is The Beast Must Die, but I prefer these as puzzles.

Death in High Heels (1941)
Green for Danger (1945)
Tour de Force (1955)
   ● One of the few who can match Christie in the capacity to surprise while playing fair.

They Rang Up the Police (1939)
Murder Included (1950)
And Be a Villain (1958)
   ● Underrated mainstream novelist who dabbled in detection.

The Poisoner’s Mistake (1936)
Quickly Dead (1937)
Like a Guilty Thing (1938)
   ● Almost forgotten, but an enjoyable, humanist detective novelist (B. C. worked in the publishing industry and was the son of novelist Thomas Cobb, who also wrote mysteries)

Thirteen Guests (1938)
The Judge Sums Up (1942)
The Double Crime (1953)
   ● A member of the famous and talented Farjeon family (both his father Benjamin and sister Eleanor were notable writers), he wrote mostly thrillers but produced some more genuine detection.

Give a Corpse a Bad Name (1940)
Neck in a Noose (1942)
Enough to Kill a Horse (1955)
   ● Came in at the tail-end of the Golden Age, like Brand, though she was more prolific (and not as good). She started with an appealing Lord Peter Wimsey knock-off (Toby Dyke), but eventually helped found the more middle class and modern “country cottage” mystery (downsized from the country house).

When the Wind Blows (1949)
An English Murder (1951)
That Yew Trees Shade (1954)
   ● Another one who came in near the end of the Golden Age proper, his best is considered to be Tragedy at Law (see P. D. James), but I like best the tales he produced in postwar years.

The Public School Murder (1932)
A Dagger in Fleet Street (1934)
The Shadow on the Downs (1935)
   ● A surprisingly underrated writer, witty and clever in the the way people like English mystery writers to be (why has no one reprinted him?).

The Bell Is Answered (1934)
Twenty-Five Sanitary Inspectors (1935)
   ● Another mostly forgotten farceur of detection.

Tidings of Joy (1934)
We Shot an Arrow (1939)
   ● Working together, these two authors (one, Goodchild, a prolific thriller writer) produced some fine detective novels (their best-known works are a pair based on real life trials).

A Blunt Instrument (1938)
Detection Unlimited (1953)
   ● Better known for her Regency romances (still read today), Heyer produced some admired exuberantly humorous (if a bit formulaic) detective novels (plotted by her husband).

Murder on Safari (1938)
Death of an Aryan (1939)
   ● After a decent apprentice genre effort, this fine writer produced two fine detective novels, interestingly set in Africa, with an excellent series detective.

The Daffodil Affair (1942)
What Happened at Hazelwood (1946)
   ● So exuberantly imaginative, he is hard to contain within the banks of true detection, but these are close enough, I think, and I prefer them to his earlier, better-known works.

Death in a Deck Chair (1930)
Corpse in Cold Storage ((1934)
   ● A neglected mainstay of the Detection Club, hardly read today.

   C. H. B. KITCHIN (2)
Death of My Aunt (1929)
Death of His Uncle (1939)
   ● These are fairly well-known attempts at more literate detective fiction, by an accomplished serious novelist.

Rynox (1930)
The Maze (1932)
   ● A writer who often stepped into thriller territory (and produced some classics of that form), he produced with these two books closer efforts at true detection (indeed, the latter is a pure puzzle)

Midsummer Murder (1937)
Measure for Murder (1941)
   ● Clever efforts by an underappreciated author.

He Should Not Have Slipped! (1939)
   ● About the closest I would say that this author (actually two men) came to full dress detection.

Not to be Taken (1938)
   ● A true detective novel and first-rate village poisoning tale by this important figure in the mystery genre, who often tweaked conventional detection.

The Bells of Old Bailey (1947)
   ● Best of this literate lady’s detective novels, her last before her untimely death.

Cut-Throat (1932)
   ● Prolific writer who is not my favorite, but I liked this one, with its clever alibi problem.

The Upfold Farm Mystery (1931)
   ● Uneven, prolific detective novelist, but this one has much to please.

Murder of an M.P.! (1928)
   ● One of my favorite 1920s detective novels, by a mere dabbler in the field.

Expert Evidence (1938)
   ● Surprisingly cerebral effort by a “tough” British thriller writer.

Murder Comes Home (1950)
   ● My favorite books by this author tend to be more suspense than true detection.

Murder at School (1931)
   ● Good foray into detection by well-regarded straight novelist.

The Ghost It Was (1936)
   ● About the closest I would say that this crime novelist came to detection.

Bullets Bite Deep (1932)
   ● Though this series later devolved into beat ’em up thrillers, this first effort has genuine detection (and American gangsters). More reading of this author’s other series may yield additional results.

Dead Man’s Quarry (1930)
   ● One of the two detective novels by a forgotten member of the Detection Club, more a mainstream novelist (though forgotten in that capacity as well).

Body Found Stabbed (1932) (as John Cameron)
   ● Detective novel by writer better known for his satire.

Burial Service (1939)
   ● Mostly forgotten Australian-born writer of detective fiction, mostly set in Britain. This tale, his finest, is not. It one of the most original of the period.

Casual Slaughters (1935)
   ● A very good, virtually unknown village tale.

On the Night of the 18th…. (1936)
   ● More realistic detective novel for the place and period, in terms of its depiction of often unattractive human motivations, by a writer who veered more toward thrillers and crime novels.

   A. A. MILNE
The Red House Mystery (1922)
   ● A well-known classic, mocked by Chandler — but, hey, what a sourpuss he was, what?

The Captain’s Curio (1933)
   ● Counted because his true detection started in the Golden Age. His best work, however, is found in crime novels (and straight novels)

One Man’s Muddle (1937)
   ● A strikingly hardboiled tale by a little-known author who was written of on this website fairly recently.

Knock, Murderer, Knock! (1939)
   ● Mysterious individual who wrote three acidulous detective novels. This is the first, a classic spa tale.

The Perfect Alibi (1934)
   ● A fine farceur of detection, whose genre talent was purged when he became a humorless Stalinist ideologue (he was killed in action in Spain).

The Missing Moneylender (1931)
   ● Controversial because of comments about Jews (as the title should suggest), yet extremely clever.

The Franchise Affair (1948)
   ● Genuine detection, though veering into crime novel territory (and veering very well, thank you).

The Clue of the Silver Key (1930)
   ● One of the closest attempts at true detection by the famed thriller writer.

She Faded Into Air (1941)
   ● See Edgar Wallace. A classic vanishing case, with some of the author’s patented shuddery moments.

Murder of a Lady (1931)
   ● Fine locked room novel by an author who tended to be too formulaic but could be good (can probably add one or two more as I read him).

Editorial Comment:   Coming up soon (as soon as I can format it for posting) and covering some of the same ground as Curt’s, is a list of “100 Good Detective Novels,” by Mike Grost. The emphasis is also on detective fiction, so obviously some of the authors will be the same as those in Curt’s list, but Mike doesn’t restrict himself to British authors, and the time period is much wider, ranging from 1866 to 1988, and the actual overlap is very small.