Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Crime Queens of The Bodley Head: Agatha Christie and Annie Haynes

A very remarkable feature of recent detective fiction is the skill displayed by women in this branch of story-telling.  Isabel Ostrander, Carolyn Wells, Annie Haynes, and last, but very far from least, Agatha Christie, are contesting the laurels of Sherlock Holmes' creator with a great spirit, ingenuity and success.
                                                                   --Illustrated London News, 1923

Tired men, trotting home at the end of an imperfect day, have been known to pop into the library and call for an Annie Haynes.  They have not made a mistake in the street number. It is not a cocktail they are asking for....
                                                                   --Punch, 1925

courtesy Carl Woodings

Last year I made a few posts about Annie Haynes (d. 1929), in the 1920s one of the key writers in the mystery stable of The Bodley Head, a publishing firm best known in the mystery world today for publishing Agatha Christie's first five novels and her first book of short stories, Poirot Investigates.

Like many a new author, Christie just had been thrilled to have her first novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1920), accepted by someone (I think Collins, who the same year accepted Freeman Wills Crofts' The Cask, was one publisher who had turned her down); and she failed to challenge what she later came to feel were iniquitous terms in her contract with The Bodley Head (for example, she was to receive no royalties on Styles until over 2000 copies of the book were sold and she was required to split with the publisher any money received for the novel's serialization).

In The Detective Novels of Agatha Christie: A Reader's Guide (2008), James Zemboy records that Christie had additional disputes with The Bodley Head that she found quite vexing.  Concerning The Mysterious Affair at Styles the spelling editor at the firm insisted that Christie has misspelled the word "cocoa," the correct spelling, in this person's view, being "coco."

Zemboy reports that an exasperated Christie "went to The Bodley Head offices with at least two dictionaries and some tins of cocoa to prove her spelling of the word was correct, but to no avail. The word is still spelled 'coco' in modern printings of that  novel." Maybe Christie just should have used Ovaltine!

Additionally, The Bodley Head only grudgingly accepted Christie's second novel, the Tommy and Tuppence thriller The Secret Adversary (1922), griping that the tale wasn't really a detective novel; and for Christie's third novel, Murder on the Links, the firm commissioned a dust jacket illustration of a scene not in the book, which infuriated the author.

By this time Christie was quite eager to give the boot to The Bodley Head and in 1924 as her penultimate book under her contract she offered the firm a collection of Poirot short stories, which, like Secret Adversary, was grudgingly accepted (it was published that year under the title Poirot Investigates).

Once The Bodley Head published Christie's extravaganza The Secret of Chimneys (1925) she left the firm for good and went to Collins, who published her 1926 novel, a little thing called The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. One has to wonder whether The Bodley Head at that point rued their belittling treatment of the young author. If not then, surely they did not long afterward, as Christie became more and more successful with each passing year.

At least The Bodley Head still had Annie Haynes, however!  In 1926, the same year that Agatha Christie slew Roger Ackroyd, the firm published Haynes' The House in Charlton Crescent, the sixth of this author's twelve mystery novels.

I'll be reviewing this novel soon and I'll also have some more information on the mysterious Miss Haynes (including her relationship with her publisher).

Note: Illustrating this post are wrappers from The Bodley Head's 1930 mysteries reprint series.  Also, on Agatha Christie's connection to another forgotten woman Golden Age mystery writer see my post "A. Fielding--Queen of Crime."


  1. I may have mentioned this before but a year or two ago from my favourite charity shop i bought for two pounds each ten hardback bodley head mysteries (without the stunning jackets alas);

    these were:

    missing or murdered robin forsythe
    night of peril horace bleackley
    the house by the road charles j dutton
    from dusk till dawn william garrett
    the black circle mansfield scott
    circumstantial evidence andrew stewart
    the abbey court murder annie haynes
    the crows inn tragedy annie haynes
    the secret road john ferguson
    murder on the marsh john ferguson

    leaving behind for reasons of finance payment deferred and man in the brown suit, mainly because i already had them in later paperback editions. Am beginning to suspect that I could have made a better deal buying the other two, but i wondered if you had read any of the others, and if so whether you rate any of them, and also if any of them are really rare?

    1. Anything by Annie Haynes is rare these days! And two pounds is a great deal for any book in that series, with or without jackets. I'll have some more to day about your list a bit later.

  2. Those really are beautiful jackets!

    1. Would love to see facsimile reprints--and not just the Christies!

  3. Hi many thanks for this great article on Haynes. About fifteen years ago I picked up six firsts ( alas without jackets) by her all from different places over the course of a few weeks and since then haven't seen any of the others that I need! I will get round to reading one this year as part of the Golden Age Bingo challenge. Again thanks for the information. It does surprise me how some of these authors have dropped almost completely into obscurity.

    1. I'm hoping to see them reprinted, but in the meantime enjoy your haul, CS! ;)