by Curt J. Evans

   This list follows (or precedes) my list of “50 Favorite Golden Age Generation British Detective Novels,” which you may find here. This list consists of more worthy British works of detection, both novels and short story collections, but with the additional restriction that the books that follow all came from the 1920s. One may notice that, once again, men predominate, in this case accounting for 75% of the books.

   The top authors, accounting for 70% of the books, are: Freeman Wills Crofts (5), R. Austin Freeman (4), John Rhode (4), Agatha Christie (3), Dorothy L. Sayers (2), G.D.H and Margaret Cole (2), Gladys Mitchell (2), J.J. Connington (2) and Henry Wade (2).

   Looking overall at the Twenties, 43% of the books come from just two years, 1928 and 1929, suggesting that the genre was improving as the decade wore on and was heading into its most golden years yet, those of the 1930s.

         NOVELS (36)

   Omissions include Herbert Adams, Lynn Brock, A. Fielding, Ronald Knox and Philip Macdonald; but I am not crazy about Brock, I have not read enough Adams, and I believe the other three did much better work in the next decade.

1. Agatha Christie, The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1920)
   A fine country house mystery that gave the world Hercule Poirot. A bit old-fashioned, but all in all one of the strongest debuts in the literature.

2. Freeman Wills Crofts, The Cask (1920)
   Another significant debut, for its apotheosis of alibi-busting and astonishing devotion to material detail. Over- long, as the author himself admitted, but one that should be read.

3. Eden Phillpotts, The Grey Room (1921)
   Unfairly dismissed by Julian Symons, this tale is an appealing take on the haunted room theme. Though it exhibits the venerable author’s penchant for philosophical digressions (which became even more pronounced as he aged), it is shorter than many of his works — and is none the worse for that.

4. A.A. Milne, The Red House Mystery (1922)
   Infamously dismantled by Raymond Chandler, this charming tale is still enjoyable even if one concedes logical faults in the plot structure.

5. Edgar Wallace, The Crimson Circle (1922)
   A deservedly once-celebrated tale by the British Golden Age King of the Thriller. This one allows scope for deduction by the reader and clearly influenced the genre.

6. R. Austin Freeman, The Cat’s Eye (1923)
   Another thrillerish tale, but still one with plenty of ratiocination by the author’s Great Detective, Dr. Thorndyke.

7. Dorothy L. Sayers, Whose Body? (1923)
   Another fine debut. Some may find Great Detective Lord Peter Wimsey too facetious, but the tale is very clever, with a memorable culprit.

8. Freeman Wills Crofts, Inspector French’s Greatest Case (1924)
   The debut of Inspector French sees the author moving away from dependence on alibis, but still prolific with clever devices of deception. Too much travelogue and dialect speech, but still a good case.

9. A. E. W. Mason, The House of the Arrow (1924)
   A major work by an author who contributed only sparingly to mystery. Beautifully written.

10. G. D. H. and Margaret Cole, The Death of a Millionaire (1925)
   While flawed in some ways, this tale demonstrates that British Golden Age mystery could be used as a vehicle for leftist-tinged satire.

11. R. Austin Freeman, The Shadow of the Wolf (1925)
   Freeman’s most famous inverted mysteries are the tales collected in The Singing Bone and the 1930s novel Mr. Pottermack’s Oversight, but this inverted tale, an expansion of an earlier version, is very good indeed.

12. Anthony Wynne, The Mystery of the Evil Eye (1925)
   The debut of Great Detective Dr. Hailey, who later revealed a marked penchant for locked room problems. No such problem here, but another noteworthy debut.

13. Agatha Christie, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (1926)
   Brilliant; one of the landmarks of the genre, probably the archetypal twenties detective novel, wrongly or rightly.

14. G. D. H. and Margaret Cole, The Blatchington Tangle (1926)
   A humorous country house tale, but with more detection than we get in, say, Agatha Christie’s similar (and better- known) The Secret of Chimneys (which was published the previous year).

15. John Rhode, Dr. Priestley’s Quest (1926)
   The author’s second Dr. Priestly tale, but more striking than the first in its impressively rigorous application of the principles of logical deduction.

16. J. J. Connington, Murder in the Maze (1927)
   In some ways repellent in attitude, yet inspired in its central notion (multiple slayings in one of those country house garden hedge mazes) and told with verve.

17. Freeman Wills Crofts, Inspector French and the Starvel Tragedy (1927)
   One of the great original uses of burned bodies, even if laborious at times in the telling.

18. Dorothy L. Sayers, Unnatural Death (1927)
   Offers a notably celebrated how? problem and an interesting why? one, plus some amusing writing and a very well-observed spinster.

19. Victor L. Whitechurch, The Crime at Diana’s Pool (1927)
   Archetypal country house, village tale. Drawn mildly, but pleasantly (thanks David!).

20. Freeman Wills Crofts, The Sea Mystery (1928)
   One of the author’s shorter works and none the worse for that. Some very clever devices, and characters less stodgy than usual. It should have been called The Crate, however.

21. Anthony Gilbert, The Murder of Mrs. Davenport (1928)
   One of the early detective novels by a prolific author who was more comfortable, in my opinion, with mystery than true detection. But this is one of her best efforts at true detection.

22. Robert Gore-Browne, Murder of an M. P.! (1928)
   One of two mysteries by a forgotten playwright and mainstream novelist. The second, a thriller, is much inferior in my view. The first, praised in A Catalogue of Crime, is a clever tale with a memorable amateur detective.

23. R. Austin Freeman, As a Thief in the Night (1928)
   An impressive achievment. Though somewhat old-fashioned in tone, the novel boasts good characterization, suspense and fascinating science.

24. John Rhode, The Murders in Praed Street (1928)
   Notable use of a particular plot gambit involving multiple murders (the first?). Good opening setting, some good characters and fiendish murders, though Dr. Priestley, Rhode’s Great Detective, is a bit imperceptive on one matter!

25. Henry Wade, This Missing Partners (1928)
   Second genre effort by one of the major figures of the period. More “Croftsian” than later works, but with interesting and original characterization.

26. Agatha Christie, The Seven Dials Mystery (1929)
   The Crime Queen’s take on an Edgar Wallace thriller, but with all the detection of her straight detective novels. Some good humor as well.

27. Freeman Wills Crofts, The Box Office Murders (1929)
   Another thriller with detection. We know who the criminals are, but just what they are up to is an interesting question.

28. J. J. Connington, The Case with Nine Solutions (1929)
   The Case with Nine Possibilities might have been a more accurate title, but this is a strong work, with an interesting situation and even detective case notes at the end!

29. C. H .B. Kitchin, Death of My Aunt (1929)
   Once celebrated (and still fairly well-remembered) detective novel by a mainstream novelist successfully aiming here at a more realistic treatment of character in a genre novel.

30. & 31. Gladys Mitchell
, Speedy Death (1929), The Mystery of a Butcher’s Shop (1929)
   An impressive one-two debut punch by a truly unique mystery writer. The first, a country house tale, is original in myriad ways. So is the second, though for many it may be too farcical and bizarre. Both have Mrs. Bradley, one of the great women detectives.

32. E. R. Punshon, The Unexpected Legacy (1928)
   First of five Inspector Carter and Sergeant Bell mysteries by a longtime mainstream novelist who had written mystery before but not really detection. There is detection here, though the author would produce better examples of it later. What appeals most are his two police detectives, who are very original for the period.

33. & 34. John Rhode
, The Davidson Case (1929), The House on Tollard Ridge (1929)
   The first novel boasts one of the most complex plots of the decade, the second pleasingly adult characters, a spooky house and some neat gadgets. Both have the acerbic Dr. Priestley.

35. P[eter] R[edcliffe] Shore, The Bolt (1929)
   A strong village take by an author about whom I know absolutely nothing beyond the name and that he was born in 1892, ostensibly. He published a second mystery, The Death Film, in 1932. Of this later book a review states: “It consists of detection, and more detection, and then some, and it was all needed. Straight investigation of crooked involution can hardly be better done.” Apparently it involves murder at the cinema, but I have never seen a copy of it.

36. Henry Wade, The Duke of York’s Steps (1929)
   Another notable work of detection by this author, with better-than-average characterization and writing.


   Omissions here include collections by Christie, the Coles, and Sayers, as well as one by the Grand Old Man himself, Arthur Conan Doyle. I believe the four collections below are superior, coming from supreme masters of the short form who were still at the top of their games.

37. Ernest Bramah, The Eyes of Max Carrados (1923)

38. H. C. Bailey, Mr. Fortune’s Trials (1925)

39. G. K. Chesterton, The Incredulity of Father Brown (1926)

40. R. Austin Freeman, The Magic Casket (1927)