The Gold in Golden Age Detective Fiction

Bestselling author Anthony Horowitz explains why golden age detective stories are a comfort blanket for the brain. Plus, comment below for a chance to win a copy of Moonflower Murders!

My novel, Moonflower Murders, is actually two books in one. My heroine, an editor called Susan Ryeland, lives in the twenty-first century and is called upon to solve a crime whose perpetrator (the wrong man as it turns out) is still in jail. The clue that reveals the real killer is concealed in a book that Susan published, a golden age crime story set in 1955 with the title: Atticus Pünd Takes the Case.

I took particular pleasure in creating what I hope is a perfect replica of the sort of book made famous by Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Josephine Tey, and Ellery Queen. I have always been drawn to the sort of crime fiction written largely in the 1920s and 30s. It has, I think, a special quality—and one that’s particularly relevant to the difficult times in which we find ourselves now.

I love the elegance of a GADS (Golden Age Detective Story). The murders may be brutal but are generally not described in that way. They take place in a gentler world where people live in close communities—St. Mary Mead perhaps or even the reinvented villages of Midsomer. Everyone knows everyone, which is actually a vital ingredient of the story. It’s why everyone is a suspect and also why the truth, when the net curtains are torn down, is so shocking. The vicar having an affair with the lady’s maid? It can’t be true!

Of course, murder stories can take place in cities. In Cat of Many Tails, Ellery Queen has the whole of New York in fear of what appears to be a serial killer. But more often than not it is the rarified world of the British village that provides the perfect setting. One of the interesting things about a GADS is the way that that the detective is the only outsider. Poirot is a foreigner to start with but almost every detective is the same. They connect with the community only while they investigate. And once the crime has been solved they no longer have a right to remain. They disappear.

Class consciousness and snobbery are rightly frowned upon in our modern, egalitarian society but I enjoy the politeness of the murderers in every GADS. Nobody gets drunk and lashes out with a broken wine bottle and nobody swears…even when they come across the corpse. Edward Ratchett may be stabbed a dozen times on the Orient Express but his blood won’t splatter the windows. Respectability is as important to the killer as not being caught and in this context “keeping up appearances” definitely has more than one meaning.

Everything is slower. We now live in an age of instant information at the touch of a button. All the knowledge in the world is—literally—in the palm of our hand and being clever is almost redundant. But the reason why I love Poirot or Holmes or Wimsey is that they have to sit back and think: they work it all out for themselves. I don’t even like pathologists and forensic scientists in my books (and refused to have them in the first episodes of Midsomer Murders when I was writing them). I think they cheat. Certainly they spoil the fun.

The locked-room mystery, a sub-genre in its own right, is a particular favorite of mine. This is murder turned into mathematics (something that Alex Pavesi recently explored in his very enjoyable pastiche, The Eighth Detective). All the horror of murder, the violence, the hatred is cheerfully undermined by the mechanics, the sheer impossibility of the crime. I loved Murder in the Crooked House by Soji Shamida which takes this chicanery to quite extreme lengths. The house is actually the hero of the book: not the suspects, the victims, or even the detective.

There are interesting parallels between a GADS and a cryptic crossword and I think it’s no coincidence that Inspector Morse was a cruciverbalist or that many crime authors have doubled as crossword compilers. I love using anagrams, acronyms, and wordplay in my own work. Both crosswords and crime novels are predicated upon clues. They are intellectual pursuits that offer a retreat from reality. It could be argued that both are, in the nicest possible way, a complete waste of time. The satisfaction of solving a crossword, which involves understanding the mind of the setter, is very similar to solving a murder mystery.

Why has there been a spike in the sales of all fiction, but particularly crime fiction, during the epidemic? I think part of the answer may be found in the way they reach out and draw us in. A good whodunit demands our complete attention, certainly if we hope to solve it. And while we are reading, the rest of the world—politics, society, whatever—can go to blazes. It is a comfort blanket for the brain.

And on the subject of comfort, let me make one final observation. We find ourselves in a time where uncertainty rules our lives. There are politicians who seem to have no shame when they tell monstrous untruths. We now talk about “fake news” which leads us to question everything while at the same time the news cycle never ends. 24-hours a day we are bombarded with new facts and then by experts who will question and deconstruct those facts only minutes later.

Is it any wonder that tens of thousands of readers are turning to the one literary genre that deals in absolute truth? When you begin a whodunit you can be sure that everything will be explained. The bad will get their just desserts and the good will continue with their lives. All the i’s will be dotted and the t’s crossed. There is nothing more satisfying than the moment when the detective reveals the truth and you see, clearly, the hidden pattern behind everything you have been reading.

That is the true gold in golden age detective fiction. Sadly it is to be found less and less in modern life.


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Moonflower Murders Comment Sweepstakes: NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN.  A purchase does not improve your chances of winning.  Sweepstakes open to legal residents of 50 United States, D.C., and Canada (excluding Quebec), who are 18 years or older as of the date of entry.  To enter, complete the “Post a Comment” entry at https://www.criminalelement.com/the-gold-in-golden-age-detective-fiction/ beginning at 3:30 p.m. Eastern Time (ET) November 9, 2020. Sweepstakes ends at 3:29 p.m. ET November 23, 2020. Void outside the United States and Canada and where prohibited by law. Please see full details and official rules here. Sponsor: Macmillan, 120 Broadway, New York, NY 10010.


About Moonflower Murders by Anthony Horowitz:

Featuring his famous literary detective Atticus Pund and Susan Ryeland, hero of the worldwide bestseller Magpie Murders, a brilliantly complex literary thriller with echoes of Agatha Christie from New York Times bestselling author Anthony Horowitz.

Retired publisher Susan Ryeland is living the good life. She is running a small hotel on a Greek island with her long-term boyfriend Andreas. It should be everything she’s always wanted. But is it? She’s exhausted with the responsibilities of making everything work on an island where nothing ever does, and truth be told she’s beginning to miss London.

And then the Trehearnes come to stay. The strange and mysterious story they tell, about an unfortunate murder that took place on the same day and in the same hotel in which their daughter was married—a picturesque inn on the Suffolk coast named Farlingaye Hall—fascinates Susan and piques her editor’s instincts.

One of her former writers, the late Alan Conway, author of the fictional Magpie Murders, knew the murder victim—an advertising executive named Frank Parris—and once visited Farlingaye Hall. Conway based the third book in his detective series, Atticus Pund Takes the Cake, on that very crime.

The Trehearne’s, daughter, Cecily, read Conway’s mystery and believed the book proves that the man convicted of Parris’s murder—a Romanian immigrant who was the hotel’s handyman—is innocent. When the Trehearnes reveal that Cecily is now missing, Susan knows that she must return to England and find out what really happened.

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Comments

  1. lasvegasnv

    looks interesting

  2. Vesna Dan

    Would love to read this! Thanks for the chance.

  3. Marie Driscoll

    I would love to win.

  4. Carolyn J Yapchanyk

    This sounds like just the kind of book I’d enjoy right now. Like a warm blanket.

  5. Shirley Pinczewski

    I’ve read two of his books and loved them. It would be a treat were I to win them.

  6. George Byron Wright

    I am a fan of noir and look forward to reading this novel by Anthony Horowitz.

  7. Bill Cook

    I thought your last two mysteries were great fun. Can wait to read Moonflower Murders!

  8. M. Munoz

    Hi! Sounds like a very interesting read! Thank you for the chance!

  9. Reilly

    Love golden age mysteries

  10. Richard Brenner

    I’m a big fan of Anthony’s novels, soI’m looking forward to reading this new one, and especially because it’s set in the past, specifically the Golden Age, my favorite era for detective stories.

  11. jane willan

    Everything by Anthony Horowitz is fabulous.

  12. sue weatherbee

    I agree, have always enjoyed GADS & looking forward to this one.

  13. Patty Sands

    I’ve been looking forward to this book release!

  14. Lori P

    Layer upon layer and then more layers! Challenging and relevant to peel off the layers in this book!

  15. Leandra Jones

    I’m reading Magpie Murders now and I love it!! Definitely going to read the rest of the books!

  16. stephanie stephens

    Good article… you noted several of my favorite authors… really enjoy your writing and looking forward to the new book!

  17. helen martin

    Sounds like a great read. Love the idea of back and forth in time.

  18. Crystal Brinkmann

    Love orphan x. Have not checked out this series but I will!

  19. Phyllis Sinclair

    I love a good mystery.

  20. Doris C. Losey

    can’t wait to read!

  21. Jen

    I read Magpie Murders on a boat in the Pacific Ocean. I did not have many books to read and I had saved Magpie Murders for the most challenging leg of the journey when I would need an escape. I read slowly appreciating the deckled edge and touchable cover and sinking through the story within the story until the ocean could not find me. Can’t wait to read Moonflower Murders and sink again.

  22. Nicole DUVALL

    I loved The Magpie Murders. Can’t wait to read this one

  23. Jane

    This sounds fascinatingly complex.

  24. Sarah Kay

    I love the book within a book idea. Can’t wait to read this.

  25. Kbrush

    Thanks for this. The book is on my To Read list!

  26. Sharon Tucker

    —On the nose about why I cannot get enough GADS and why Anthony Horowitz is a pleasure to read. I’d love a copy of the Moonflower Murders.

  27. Anne

    Intriguing and captivating mystery. A creative author.

  28. Judith A McNamara

    I agree, a well written mystery gets me so involved I do forget all my troubles!!

  29. Betsy

    Loved the word is murder. Can’t wait

  30. Mary Norris

    “comfort blanket for the brain” – just what we need!

  31. Leisha Sincox

    Sounds like a great story!

  32. DDownie

    Looking forward to reading this one. I always enjoy his books.

  33. gary rejsek

    Looking forward to it

  34. Harley Christensen

    Congratulations on the release of your new book!

    Love this >>> “A good whodunit demands our complete attention, certainly if we hope to solve it. And while we are reading, the rest of the world—politics, society, whatever—can go to blazes. It is a comfort blanket for the brain.” ~Anthony Horowitz

  35. Carol Salini

    Can’t wait to read MOONFLOWER MURDERS!

  36. Joanne Root

    Horowitz talks about whodunnits as being “a comfort blanket for the brain”. That’s why we refer to them as cosies!

  37. Kathy

    I loved The Magpie Murders, this sounds just as good.

  38. Therese

    Love your books.

  39. Cindi

    Late to the game and just finished Magpie Murders last night. Eager to read this-Susan and Atticus are terrific characters!

  40. Renee

    I always loved an all consuming whodunnit, but during the surreal year of 2020, it’s more than a pleasurable activity, it’s a sanity saver.

  41. Dione Amore

    Sooo looking forward to this one!!! I’m recovering from my third back surgery and will be able to finish it in no time 😁❤️✌️📖

  42. Susan Cook

    I can’t wait to read another Horowitz wonder

  43. Elizabeth Hughes

    I do love the ‘classic’ mysteries that rely on subtlety and detail and require a thoughtful reader.

  44. Dorothy Minor

    I eagerly look forward to reading Moonflower Murders! I have enjoyed Magpie Murders and The Word is Murder and recommended them to friends. I also blog about my reading as The Book Whisperer.

  45. Karen Blumst

    Now the hook has been set. A mystery wrapped in an enigma.

  46. Lisa Griffith

    looks very interesting would love to read

  47. susan beamon

    I like those old mysteries too.

  48. Karen Blumst

    Anthony Horowitz’s fingerprints are prevalent on much of the best British murder mystery I enjoy on the telly, thank goodness for streaming services -now full series are available anytime. Can’t wait for his next book.

  49. Cheryl

    Love a mystery like this. Would love to win.

  50. Karen Mikusak

    Sounds great, would love to win.

  51. R J Newhouse

    I agree that older books that did not show blood all over were better. I am thinking about The Silence of the Lambs, the criminal did go free.

  52. Linda Hitchcock

    Eager to read this latest gem from the great Anthony Horowitz. Foyle’s War remains our favorite series.

  53. R J Newhouse

    Never ends. Forget it !!

  54. Mike Gora

    As a fan of island mysteries, I’ll definitely read this. And as a fan of John Dickson Carr who has read and still has ALL of his locked room mysteries, I enjoyed your mention of the genre and have also read “Murder in the Crooked House”. Yes, it was a fairly extreme but valid example of the genre.

  55. Tina Richards

    I recently finished Magpie Murders and it was great! I am looking forward to reading this one!

  56. Ann-Marie Meyers

    Intriguing. A modern Golden Age detective novel.

  57. Irma Flores

    I am looking forward to this book. I loved the others.

  58. Karen Cummins

    Sounds like it would be a very interesting read.

  59. Portia Asher

    I loved Magpie Murders so I ordered the Audiobook of Moonflower Murders..but I prefer print. I would appreciate a print copy.

  60. sarah jane THORP

    I love the old classics, like Hillary Waugh.

  61. Ann Ivey

    Sounds intriguing.
    Thanks for the chance.

  62. ashley hufft

    Absolutely my favorite comfort food 😍

  63. Suzan

    I can’t wait to read this and figure out who done it.

  64. Nancy Wagner

    I absolutely love the Golden Age detective novels! Nobody does them better than Anthony Horowitz these days.

  65. Andrea

    Setting a GADS in the twenty-first century must be challenging yet sounds intriguing.

  66. SeattleReader

    I LOVE golden age mystery novels! Fascinated to read a newly written one. Thanks for the chance to win.

  67. Cat marshall

    Sounds like a tribute to Agatha Christie – perfect escapism for the crazy times we are living in

  68. Robin

    I love his books! Really enjoyed Magpie Murders – that’s my favorite of his. Well, and Moriarty.

  69. Jennifer Young

    Looks great – can’t wait to read it!

  70. Lesley

    Interesting article, I look forward to reading the book!

  71. Deb Philippon

    I read tons of Christie, Sayers, et al., when I was young. This article makes me want to reacquaint myself with their books.

  72. Dianna

    New author for me!

  73. Michael Carter

    I’d love to win!

  74. Charles Hauser

    I’m on board with the 20s and 30s as being the golden age. I’ve read all of Sayers, Tey. Robertson. but not all of Ellery Queen. IF I don’t win a copy of Moonflower Murders I’ll likely buy it. Good luck with it.

  75. Mary Chamberlain

    Now Susan has a couple of great excuses to return to England. Poor Andreas, do not forsake him!!

  76. LInda Zucaro

    Eagerly awaiting one of my library’s copies ! Have been re-reading many of my favorite GADS during this time and they truly are comfort blankets for the mind.

  77. Cindi Hoppes

    From the time I was a young girl, my older brother and I would watch various detectives work their magic! Charlie Chan, Piorot, Sherlock, and the very observant, Miss Marple!
    Thank you, Cindi

  78. Patricia LaRue

    Patricia

  79. C. Hope Clark

    I adored Magpie Murders! Studied each step, loving the mystery within a mystery. I’ve seen every Midsomer Murders episode and most of Foyle’s War. Dying to read Moriarty.

  80. Debra

    I love the Golden Age Detectives.

  81. Denice Langley

    Mysteries of any genre place the reader inside the story as the puzzle is unwound. I absolutely love a good murder mystery. Nero Wolfe and Ellery Queen have been favorites of mine for many years.

  82. Mary-Ann Montagne

    Can’t wait to read. All author’s books are fantastic

  83. Pam Walrath

    Can’t wait to read this book. Loved Magpie Murders!

  84. Roger Dowdy

    Just started Horowitz’s “Magpie Murders”, 10 pages in and I am completely ‘captured’! I will definitely be purchasing “Moonflower Murders”! All of the characters in this ‘Golden-Age style’ series ‘live’ and draw the reader into their lives – good times and bad.

  85. Jackie Bas

    I love whodunnit mysteries. They tickle one’s brain and surely each of us is an armchair detective. I only watch British mysteries. I too love the GAD mysteries. One of my favorite is ‘Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries’ which is set in Victoria, Australia during the jazz-age of the 1920s. I would really love to read this book. Enjoyed reading about the author. Thanks for sharing.

  86. Jackie Bas

    I love whodunnit mysteries. They tickle one’s brain and surely each of us is an armchair detective. I only watch British mysteries. I too love the GAD mysteries. One of my favorite is ‘Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries’. It’s set in Victoria, Australia during the jazz-age era of the Roaring 1920s.
    Having said that, I would really love to read this book. And I really enjoyed reading about this author. Thanks for sharing.

  87. Nancy

    I have enjoyed his previous mysteries and this one sounds like it’s got twists and turns in it to appreciate!

  88. Barbara Johnson

    Loved his other mysteries and have been counting down for this one

  89. Brandy Ybarra

    I love his books. I loved his episodes of Midsomer Murders and Foyle’s War. And he’s just spot on about the appeal of a Golden Age mystery. *sighs* He’s the reason I want to be a mystery writer when I “grow up”, lol.

  90. amy marantino

    sounds good

  91. Andi

    Huge fan of Anthony Horowitz!

  92. LeMinou

    Sounds like a fascinating read. Thanks!

  93. Rebecca Brothers

    I was ridiculously delighted to see Ellery Queen mentioned as an influence. He doesn’t appear alongside the other Golden Age greats nearly enough (to the best of my knowledge anyway). Anyway, would love to win as this sounds like exactly my favorite kind of mystery.

  94. Helen Hernandez

    sounds yummy!

  95. Mally Becker

    I love those old Josephine Tey and Agatha Christie mysteries, too. Moonflower Murders sounds like a lovely way to (at least temporarily) take the edge off our current anxious times. A comfort blanket for the brain, indeed. Can’t wait to read it!

  96. Linda J Revier

    I love all of Mr. Horowitz’s books! How on earth does he continue to come up with novel ways of bumping off people?

  97. Susan Stokes

    It Would be An Honor to Win “Moonflower Murders” Of course my chances are slim..On my TBR… StayHealthy…

  98. Susan Craig

    I agree – the Golden Age was golden indeed. Can’t wait to read this book!

  99. Saundra K. Warren

    Sounds like a wonderful read!!

  100. Mame Coyle

    Loved the article and can’t wait to read Moonflower Murders

  101. Christine Beyersdorf

    I love GADS and Cozies. When I was younger I did both that and hard core, but as I get older, I cannot do the hardcore anymore. I love to disappear into a quaint village, an age of jazz, or a snow blocked house to try to discover the who, what, where, when, and how of it all.

  102. Wendy Swanson

    Thanks for providing this article. I discovered the author thru Magpie Murders, which remains a personal favorite, and have been catching up on his other works. I love how he folds golden age mysteries into his works. So many of my friends are reading mysteries these days and Mr. Horowitz explanation for such rings true for me. I do enjoy works that make me think as I try to solve the crime myself. I enjoyed the article and look forward to this new work.

  103. lilycat

    This sounds like a book I’d really enjoy. I look forward to reading it.

  104. Tracy Shepherd

    Magpie Murders was a wonderful book! As was Moriarty! I have very much enjoyed Horowitz recreation of golden age detective stories as the are my favorite type of mystery books for many of the same reasons he stated above. I look forward to using my little gray cells on Moonflower Murders.

  105. Patrice Gottfried

    Horowitz’s description of this book is intriguing. I have read many of the authors he mentions.

  106. Susan Morris

    I grew up in the 50’s and 60’s reading with my mother the Ellery Queen mystery magazines she would buy. Loved them! I’m also a fan of Agatha Christie. Can’t wait to get my hands on your new book!

  107. Debbie Teel

    In these challenging times, there’s nothing like a really good book to pass the time. I love this genre because it draws you in and allows you challenge yourself to see if you can solve the crime. They also allow you to see life from a different perspective from the safety of your room, lol. I hope I win the Moon Flower Murders. It would make reading this book that much more exciting.

  108. Kathleen Hammond

    I love the GADS. This will be a definite read.

  109. Rachna Alice George

    I love Anthony Horowitz’ books. Its amazing how he was able to write books about Sherlock Holmes, matching Dr. Watson. Also love the settings in all of his books. Waiting to read his latest.

  110. Wanda J. McLaughlin

    Sounds like something I would enjoy!

  111. Jackie Merritt

    Am a Librarian and have ordered so many reprinted classic mystery books that people are beginning to talk! (Love the British Literary Crime Classics edited by Martin Edwards.)

  112. Elizabeth Lehman

    I totally agree with Mr. Horowitz’ assessment of the value of and comfort to be derived from Golden Age Detective Stories. I have been reading the Carolyn Graham Midsomer books and binge watching Midsomer Murders from the beginning. It is a wonderful way to spend an afternoon and avoid the noise of our media circus. Kudos to Mr. Horowitz

  113. Greg Daniel

    I am a huge fan of Anthony Horowitz’s two very different meta mystery series (and his other writing as well). I am definitely looking forward to reading the new Atticus Pund story (an story within the story).

  114. Daniella Bernett

    I agree wholeheartedly with Anthony Horowitz. For me, mysteries have always been about solving the puzzle set forth my author. Following the clues and red herrings is part of the fun. A tease for the intellect.

  115. Lynn K Carey

    Love Magpie Murders. Looking forward to reading Moonflower Murders.

  116. Lida Bushloper

    I can’t get enough of Anthony Horowitz. More, more! Lida Bushloper

  117. Agnes

    Agreed!!! Those classics are the very prototype nowadays novels based upon!!!

  118. cakane

    Looks great! Thank you.

  119. Tom Godfrey

    Crostics and mysteries! My two favorite things1

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