The Golden age of Mystery refers to the period of years between WWI and WWII. The plethora of mystery writers in Britain and North America who started their careers during this era include some of the most loved and most enduring writers of all time in this genre. The influence of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes is everywhere.
The Golden Age of Mystery: Why Is It Given This Lofty Title?
The Golden Age of Mystery is a term used for the era between the World Wars. There are strong reasons why this term is warranted.
Why the Era Between the World Wars Was Golden
Whether or not you are a fan of mystery and suspense fiction, you have probably heard the term Golden Age of Mystery. You may even know that this era encompasses the years between World War I and World War II. Certainly you know this if are a fan of mystery and suspense. What is it about this period of years that warrants the term Golden Age when
a) the men and women who wrote detective stories during this era had careers much longer than the two decades between the end of World War I in 1918 and the year that England-a hot bed of mysteries-joined World War II in 1939; and
b) Sherlock Holmes is generally considered by everyone to be the greatest detective of all time and he was created during the Victorian era?
a) THE ERA
First of all, titles are given to eras in history after the fact. No one knew at the time the era began that there would be a plethora of authors-many, but not all of them female-who would create their own series detective and launch a mystery writing career between the World Wars. Some detectives had their own Dr. Watson narrators. Some were amateurs. Some were police officers of various ranks, either at Scotland Yard or in an American city. Some lived in a large city like London or New York. Some lived in small towns that were totally fictitious. Some mysteries read like a Murder Most Cozy , some were Impossible Locked Room Mysteries, some focused on the criminal, some followed private eyes, some followed lawyers, and some were Police Procedurals. Yet if you ignore all the variations of Golden Age mysteries and look at the names of and amount of famous authors who first published either a short story or novel between 1918 and 1939 who are still read today by a wide audience of mystery fans, you realize that this has to be the Golden Age of Mystery.
AUTHORS AND CHARACTERS:
Here are some examples of authors and their creations who debuted between 1918 and 1939:
Margery Allingham and Albert Campion
John Dickson Carr and Gideon Fell
Raymond Chandler and Phillip Marlowe
G.K. Chesterton and Father Brown
Agatha Christie and Hercule Poirot
Agatha Christie and Miss Jane Marple
Carter Dixon (Carr) and Sir Henry Merrivale
Franklin Dixon and The Hardy Boys
Erle Stanley Gardner and Perry Mason
Carolyn Keene and Nancy Drew
Ngaio Marsh and Roderick Alleyn
Dorothy L. Sayers and Lord Peter Whimsey
Rex Stout and Nero Wolfe
The Influence Of Sherlock Holmes
The Detective and His Narrator
THE VICTORIAN SHERLOCK HOLMES
Sherlock Holmes inspired several men and women to create their own detective and sidekick team, regardless of whether the sidekick narrated the book like Dr. Watson or whether there was no narrator at all. All of the detectives had unique characteristics that separated them from the characters of other writers, even if the paradigm were the same.This is true of both British and American authors. Take Christie and Stout.
Agatha Christie created Hercule Poirot and his narrator Captain Hastings. Poirot was a Belgian detective who was forced to flee his country where he had been a policeman to England during WWI. He was fastidiously tidy, loved order and method, and talked of his "little grey cells." Hastings had been wounded during the war and met Poirot in Europe before being reunited in The Mysterious Affair at Styles in 1920. She got tired of Hastings and married him off, although he turned up from time to time. From then on Poirot had no narrator--except for the famous The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.
Rex Stout on the opposite side of the Atlantic Ocean created Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin. Both were private eyes who had never been on the police force. Wolfe was an large man who was dangerously obese, rode an elevator in his own private home, and had a strict time schedule to his day. He hated to be interrupted when he was tending to his beloved orchids and woe to the man or woman who thinks he or she has business more important than orchids. Goodwin was a devil-may-care ladies man who did all of Wolfe's legwork for him. Wolfe could not have survived without his narrator. To say the least, Stout never married off Goodwin.
What of the fact that Holmes is Victorian and has continued to be given new mysteries through to today? It is true that Holmes is the best, came back from the dead, and transcends the generations perhaps even more popularly now than any time since Doyle died. But Doyle was very much alone in his success in standing the test of time. Even during the time Doyle was writing, other writers and their detectives did not have the same success. Some are entirely forgotten today. The one possible exception is R. Austin Freeman who created Dr. Thorndyke and his faithful biographer, Jervis. It is perhaps no coincidence that Thorndike is a medical man who was modeled after a real person and that he had a logical method to solving crimes forensically.
Time will tell whether the current writers of mystery will have been living in a second Golden Age of Mystery