Name-Dropping: Golden Age Author Edition

So I’ve always been interested in looking up authors that the characters in crime novels are reading: it leads me to some interesting authors. Lately, however, I’m wondering if I’m missing out on something by never having read the authors that are clearly an inspiration for the contemporary authors I read today. Namely, I’ve never read Ngaio Marsh, whose character named Troy was the inspiration for the character of Troy Chance in Sara J. Henry’s A Cold and Lonely Place. Also, I’ve never read Simenon, who was an inspiration for PI Cayetano Brule in The Neruda Case by Roberto Ampuero.  My knowledge of Golden Age authors is slim to none: I read a handful of Agatha Christie books when I was a teenager, and that’s about it.

I can rely on Wikipedia for a quick background check about some of the authors I’ve stumbled across, but I wonder if I’m glossing over a lot of stuff because my background is limited to crime fiction written in the last 30 years, more or less. Any thoughts?

18 thoughts on “Name-Dropping: Golden Age Author Edition

  1. Rebecca – This is just my opinion, but I believe reading at least some of the Golden Age greats helps one to understand the genre that much better. And it helps one to see how today’s plots, character types and so on got started. I don’t want to clutter up your comment space, but if you’re interested in ‘where to start,’ let me know (margotkinberg(at)gmail(dot)com) and I’ll let you know how I started.

  2. I think Agatha Christie has also been my only golden age author I’ve read. Though I did get through quite a few of her books as a teenager. I’d be interested to hear what you start reading if you go down this route.

  3. I’d recommend reading one of the surveys of crime fiction – Julian Symons’ Bloody Murder is one I’ve just read. They’ll give you a flavour of what’s out there.

    True Golden Age novels are, for better or worse, very different to the crime fiction on the market today. Personally I tend to prefer the books of the 50s and 60s.

    (Also personally, I’d give Ngaio Marsh a miss… Margery Allingham, now there’s a queen of crime)

  4. The golden age authors are a surprisingly mixed bag when it comes to quality and it can come down to personal taste. Ngaio Marsh is good but feels very dated now. I personally live Simenon and I would recommend you read any of his Maigret books.

    • Thanks, Sarah. Another reason I’m asking for suggestions is that there are so many Maigret novels, for example to choose from. I’m a novice, so I appreciate any advice.

      • Funnily enough Rebecca, the Maigret novels are so alike that it doesn’t really matter where you start. However, as I appreciate that’s not being very helpful, why not try ‘Maigret and the Burglar’s Wife’. It’s representative of his style so if you don’t like this one, maybe Maigret isn’t for you. Hope this helps!

      • Thanks for the information, Sarah! I’m sort of a completist when it comes to series, but there’s no way I can read all the Maigret novels in order.

  5. I wold agree with WestwoodRich, marsh can pall fairly quickly, but Allingham is first rate and I believe there has just been a new edition of her work. You should also try Dorothy L Sayers Peter Wimsey novels,

  6. You have a lot of suggestions there. I agree with Sarah, for a lot of Golden Age authors, it comes down to personal taste. Allingham is a good example of an author whose style and approach changed from novel to novel, so you might read one and not like, read a later one and love it. And some that I loved when I was younger just leave me cold now.

    The only author I would add would be Rex Stout — the Nero Wolfe series. And he is definitely one that has many diehard fans, and many readers who don’t like the books at all.

  7. I’ll be curious to see how you go. My own knowledge of the crime classics is also woeful though I have read a smattering of novels over the years (I tend to do it via audio these days). As Sarah says the quality does vary widely – just as it does today – and some of them are more ‘dated’ than others.. Aside from being stylistically dated there are a lot of attitudes on display that you wouldn’t accept today (e.g. various forms of discrimination and prejudice) and while I can acknowledge the works were created in a different era I’ve never been particularly keen to wallow about in that kind of thing. However there is good stuff too. I can’t really decide if having a working knowledge of the genre’s history really does inform a reading of the current genre but it sure can’t hurt.

    • Thanks for your comment, Bernadette. It’s been at least 20 years since I read a classic crime novel so I appreciate any guidance as I dive into this new-to-me area.

  8. Would heartily recommend Dorothy Sayers, especially ‘Gaudy Night’ – some of the earlier novels have a tendency to portray Wimsey as a bit of a clotheshorse and fop. But this one feels very fresh and modern. I also like Josephine Tey ‘The Franchise Affair’ or ‘The Daughter of Time’.
    I am also a huge Simenon fan, and they are all quite short. It’s hard to choose, but I had to give my Top 5 Simenon novels at one point, so here is the link:

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