Friday, October 29, 2021

Halloweekend at The Sign of the Passing Tramp, 2021

Classic Arthur Hawkins jacket to a
classic creepy Thirties crime novel by
Joseph Shearing,
aka Marjorie Bowen,
aka Margaret Campbell Long
(1885-1952), who will be one of
our honored guests this weekend
Murder and horror go hand in the hand, even in the era of vintage of crime fiction, when murder could be fun, even rather jolly.  The Golden Age of detective fiction was also, after all, the Golden Age of the Horror/Supernatural Story.  In the United States, where there was pulpish hard-boiled crime fiction, there was also the pulpish, hard-boiled horror fiction of HP Lovecraft and others--visceral, weird, hair-raising stuff.  Meanwhile in England we continued to see classic donnish ghost stories, more restrained but in their own way quite eerie, of M. R. James and his followers. 

Like Arthur Conan Doyle, still around as the Grand Old Man of Mystery during fully half of the Golden Age of detective fiction, M. R. James continued to publish genre fiction in the 1920s, with his last book of ghost stories, A Warning to the Curious, appearing in 1926-- although, again like Doyle, James' best work generally dated back to the Victorian and Edwardian eras.

Over this weekend I plan to look at some of the work of M. R. James, to whom I was introduced thirty years ago in a marvelous collection introduced by the late English crime writer Ruth Rendell, a huge admirer of his.  (Rendell herself wrote a few ghostly tales and she well knew how to induce frissons of fear and unease in her murder fiction.) 

Reflecting, I suppose, my general bias in favor of all things olde and English, I greatly preferred James' subtly frightening antiquarian ghost stories to Lovecraft's freakish and ghastly creep shows.  James in turn was a reader of Agatha Christie (who herself wrote some supernatural and "weird" fiction) and I want to look a little about how James' works can resemble classic crime fiction.  At the same time I also want to look at some examples of vintage mystery fiction with supernatural elements.  So buckle of your broomsticks, guys and ghouls, it's going to be a goose bumpy ride!

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