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Wednesday, 5 September 2018

The Mayfair Mystery by Frank Richardson

I regret having listened to this as an audiobook, as I wish I’d noted down some of the one-liners, and I’d love to have a copy I can keep and consult (luckily, under its original title, 2835 Mayfair, it is available online here). I’m grateful to those of my friends who recommended Frank Richardson’s The Mayfair Mystery (1906) to me.

An eminent Harley Street doctor has been murdered – or has he? A valet discovers his master dead and summons the authorities – but, when he returns to the scene, the body has gone …

The Mayfair Mystery was the first title republished in those gorgeous Collins Crime Club editions in 2015. It’s an interesting choice, as the original publication predates the traditional parameters of the Golden Age, and the puzzle aspect (with which the renaissance seems outwardly obsessed) is not strong. Indeed, supernatural explanations for the crime are routinely flirted with and – arguably – not wholly abandoned.

It’s also not well-served by HarperCollins’ blurb, which makes it sound like a straightforward brain-teaser. In fact, the prose is absorbingly witty and satirical – as is the story architecture. Almost every other line is some loaded throwaway comment about the hypocrisies of the well-to-do, particularly those in pursuit of marriage.

I still might buy myself a copy because I am keen to read David Brawn’s introduction to the text. In particular, I’d like to find out more about Frank Richardson, who committed suicide in 1917. He was well-known as a satirist with, bizarelly, an obsession with facial hair (he is said to have coined the term ‘face fungus’), and it does not take a supersleuth to understand the moustache-obsessed hack novelist Frederick Robinson within these pages as a self-portrait.

As I listened to this book (you may have gathered, audiobooks are relatively new and not quite comfortable territory for me), I was struck by a feeling of pleasure: normally, when I ask people for recommendations, they just fish about in their favourite canons and recollect one with a gay character or LGBTQ themes.  Often these are great, but often they’re not the most enjoyable part of the canon, and I get a bit peeved that people just think, ‘oh, yeah, Jamie likes gay stuff, so the gay stuff is for him’ (I was nearly put off Kerry Greenwood by being told I’d love to start with Murder and Mendelsohn, one of her worst). So, I was delighted that people seemed to have grasped that I’m interested in society satire etc etc etc…. until I got to the ending. Oh, well! Still, it’s very interesting and put me in mind of Dorothy Bowers, who wrote some 30-40 years later.

There's one mystery I cannot solve. At the end of the audiobook, the narrator announced that authorial copyright for this novel is held by none other than David Brawn, and Google tells me it was registered in 2015. Surely, 101 years after an author's death, their work cannot be copyrighted by anyone. Now, is this simply a muddle -- i.e., is it merely David's introduction that has been copyrighted? Or has he adapted the text?

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