Death of My Aunt (1929) by C.H.B. Kitchin. Death of My Aunt was published by the Hogarth Press, and with its droll narrative style aimed to challenged the status quo and raise the tone of detective fiction, while embracing the gameplay aspect that dominated 1920s British crime fiction. The book was a mild success, but it failed to innovate the genre, because what Kitchin did not understand was that the best Golden Age novelists were already embracing the artificiality of their own narratives. The narrative concerns Malcolm Warren, whose aunt is poisoned. When he realises that he himself administered the poison, he decides to find out who he can blame to avoid suspicion falling upon him. Interestingly, the snobbishness of the narrative reveals the author’s out-of-touchness and it’s perhaps significant that he tried subsequently to turn Warren into a ‘straight’ series detective. I think this book is overrated.
The Case of the Late Pig (1937) by Margery Allingham. One of the stronger entries into Allingham’s Albert Campion series, The Case of the Late Pig is relatively short, and all the better for its length: it’s pacier than some of her other novels. Campion, who narrates, attends the funeral of an old enemy from his school days. Several months later, a fresh body turns up: that of the same old friend. We also learn a bit more about the mysterious Campion’s sidekick, the equally enigmatic Lugg.
Beneath the Skin (2000) by Nicci French. My first experience of Nicci French, and it won’t be my last. In fact, I think they might well be a new favourite crime writer. There are three parts to Beneath the Skin, and each is narrated by a different victim of one man’s psychotic obsessions. The narrative is utterly gripping and absorbing, the psychology is watertight, and there are two twists. The first – the psychopath’s identity – occurs halfway through and hit me like a lightning bolt. The second twist, the big finale, was one I saw coming a mile off, but that did not stop this novel being compelling from start to finish.
The Front (2008) by Patricia Cornwell. Dull, predictable, and riddled with stock characters and set-ups. Written by committee, and it shows.
The Awakening (2011) directed by Nick Murphy. Since today is Hallowe’en, I hope you’ll forgive me for including a horror film. Although it is not a crime drama, The Awakening is structured so much like a detective narrative that it earns its place on this blog. Rebecca Hall plays a debunker of psychic frauds in interwar England. One investigation takes her to a particularly gloomy boarding school, where she is forced to confront an unexplainable apparition – and to face her own childhood traumas. Mystery fans will recognise in the opening sequence, in which Florence (Hall) interrupts a séance to explain how it works, a device present in most pilot detective dramas of the twenty-first century. The most elegant and intelligent film of its kind, the Awakening deserves to be hailed as a modern classic.