Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Downing Contest: And the Winner Is....

Agatha Christie was one of the favorites
of Todd Downing (he's not alone here!)

I know everyone has been nervously awaiting this announcement, so here goes!

It was close, but the winner of the Downing Contest is...Patrick!  A certain someone with whom you may already be familiar in the mystery blogosphere.

But it was so close that I'm going to give offer a consolation prize to the second place finisher, David, out of the same group of five books, after Patrick has picked one.

I hope both these percipient gents will find something to their liking.Thanks to those who participated!

The top six contestant guesses for the most reviewed authors by Todd Downing were:

1. John Dickson Carr/Carter Dickson
2. John Rhode/Miles Burton
3. Ellery Queen/Barnaby Ross
4. Agatha Christie
5. Mignon Eberhart
6. Rufus King

Which actually wasn't all that far off from the actual top six.  Out in front among authors reviewed by Downing is:

Ellery Queen/Barnaby Ross (eight books)

followed by

Agatha Christie and Eden Phillpotts (tied at seven)


H. C. Bailey, John Dickson Carr and Carolyn Wells (tied at six).

The highest anyone ranked Baily was sixth, Phillpotts seventh, Wells eleventh.

So you could say Carolyn Wells was the real dark horse here.  But the truth is, Downing's reviews of Wells books are some of his best, quite wry.

like Todd Downing and Bill Pronzini
John Dickson Carr was a onetime reader of Carolyn Wells
Downing with considerable prescience writes about Wells's dotty crime fiction in the same splendid satirical manner as Bill Pronzini three decades later in Gun in Cheek, Pronzini's wonderful salute to "alternative" classics (if you haven't read this book and its sequel already, you really should get copies on the used book market).  Wells can become addictive, alternatively speaking, as Pronzini can tell you.

The truth is, though, that Carolyn Wells was a tremendously prolific mystery writer during the Golden Age and had quite a devoted following who took her quite seriously, including a young John Dickson Carr (he later went back and reread her in middle-age and was crashingly disappointed--you can't go home again!).

The other five authors most reviewed by Downing--Queen, Christie, Phillpotts, Bailey and Carr--Downing held in the greatest esteem.

You will find much, much more on the authors reviewed by Todd Downing in my Clues and Corpses: The Detective Fiction and Mystery Criticism of Todd Downing.

Reviews are a great primary source for people who want to have a better understanding of what Golden Age mystery fiction was really like (you can't simply judge it from handful of authors still widely in print today); and there are hundreds of fascinating (and fully annotated) reviews in Clues and Corpses.

Additionally, you get a good picture of the personality of Todd Downing as a man, mystery writer and mystery reader.  At his death in 1974, his library was donated to an Oklahoma university, where it is kept intact today, so I was able to even further analyze his aesthetic tastes in mystery (mystery fiction made up about 25% of his library).  The man not only wrote accomplished detective fiction himself (now reprinted by Coachwhip), he reads great quantities of it for many decades.

I hope more collections of mystery reviews will appear in future.  In particular, those by Dorothy L. Sayers and Dashiell Hammett should be available in book form.  There is so much still to be learned about the earlier decades of the ever-fascinating literary genre of crime and mystery fiction.


  1. Where is the full list of all fifteen writers in order of most to least reviewed? I'm curious where Keeler falls. Is he dead last? Or is Wentworth last? Never saw the contest post until it was all over. If I had, I definitely would've taken a stab at it. Not that I need any more books.

    Now I see why Valentine Williams and Eden Philpotts were featured earlier this month. Not just coincidence that they appear in the list of writers reviewed by Downing, is it?

  2. John,

    I was holding out a bit! Some people may buy the book (you never know).

    Sorry, you missed, it was a quick thing, because some people will be getting the book this week with the full list.

    Yes, Todd did review The Portcullis Room, the Valentine Williams book I wrote about (also The Clock Ticks On and Fog), but actually I had read most of Eden Phillpotts' crime books a long time ago. I found him an interesting writer even though his style is so old-fashioned I doubt many people will ever read him again. But then, hey, people are reading Anna Katharine Green again, so you never know!