Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Blast from the Past: John Rhode's Licensed for Murder (1958), Revisited; Plus Jane Wallace's (and Nedra Tyre's) Favorite Crime Fiction

My choice for a 1958 crime novel is John Rhode's Licensed for Murder, mainly, to be honest, because I posted this substantive piece about the book several years ago on this blog, where I addressed it specifically for what it had to say about the time when it was written.  John Rhode, aka Cecil John Charles Street, is one of the Golden Age crime writers I discuss in Masters of the "Humdrum" Mystery, an attempt to recover some of the lost history of Golden Age British crime fiction.

At this blog there's some additional interesting personal background material on John Street here and here and reviews of some of his novels here and here and here. Discussion of Street's friendship with John Dickson Carr, which encompassed much drinking as well as a collaborative detective novel, is found here and here.  Street's writing on the infamous Constance Kent murder case is discussed here.  Of course there's lots on all this and more in Masters!

And speaking of British crime fiction, Nedra Tyre, discussed in my last post, expresses a great partiality toward it in her 1952 crime novel, Mouse in Eternity.  At one point in the tale her protagonist, Jane Wallace, presumably speaking for the author, lists the crime writers with books on her shelf--and it's a list dominated by the sceptred isle:

Edmund Pearson (A)
Dorothy L. Sayers
Oliver Onions
Ellery Queen (A)
Wilkie Collins
H. C. Bailey
Margery Allingham
Marie Belloc Lowndes
Joseph Shearing
Agatha Christie
William Roughead
Elzabeth Daly (A)
Graham Greene
Eric Ambler
Ngaio Marsh
Michael Innes
Dashiell Hammett (A)
Raymond Chandler (A)
Freeman Wills Crofts
Nicholas Blake

Only five American in the lot: two classicists (Queen and Daly), two hard-boiled (Hammett and Chandler), and a true crime writer (Edmund Pearson).  Many of the names will still be familiar today, although the true crime writers of fact and fiction (besides Pearson, Roughead, Belloc Lowndes and Shearing) likely are be less so; and no doubt many fewer people today have read Bailey and Crofts (another Masters of the "Humdrum" Mystery author) than the Crime Queens (Christie, Sayers, Allingham and Marsh) and Detection Dons (Innes and Blake--was surprised not to see Edmund Crispin, by the way).  Given Tyre's evident tastes John Dickson Carr is a notable omission, as is the great G. K. Chesterton.

When Jane Wallace and her invalid friend, Mr. Lawrence, discuss their "recipe for the perfect murder story," is it hardly surprising that Mr. Lawrence urges:

"I think it would have to be set in England."

Do you agree?


  1. I've noticed this in crime novels particularly ones published in the early thirties; they let a characters' enthusiasm for crime fiction act as a sort of credential or explanation for his or her enthusiasm to take the role of amateur detective later on. There's a discussion like that in John Bude's cornish coast mystery for example; or there's a tendency for one character to be described as 'the local sherlock holmes' like in james hilton's murder at school- it's usually a device for someone to say 'from now on i'm goiing to concentrate on reading about detectives; it's too dangerous being one!' by the story's conclusion

    It can work the other way- can think of one Golden Age book where the criminal is first suspected due to the large collection of whodunnits in his house!

  2. Yes, indeed. I often enjoy these bits from the books, as in the Bude you mention. That discussion was the only thing I recalled about The Cornish Coast Murder years later, when it was reprinted!