A homage to the Golden Age of crime fiction

There is quite a fashion at the moment to reprint crime novels from the middle of the last century or to write novels which read as though they were written at that time.  The Act of Roger Murgatroyd by Gilbert Adair is one of those books, set firmly after the First World War, but it is also a homage to Golden Age crime novels and the reader will be able to spot lots of references to tropes and titles common in the past.

The book is set in a sleepy English village where a snowstorm means that the eclectic collection of people who have gathered for a Christmas celebration are snowed in. A murder is discovered. The young man who has died has upset a number of the guests and it appears that he collected and threatened to make public secrets about the past of each person present. His body is found in an attic locked from the inside and with no obvious way in which a murderer might have escaped. Fortunately, one of the residents of the village is a retired Scotland Yard detective and one of the guests, Evadne Mount, is a famous writer of detective stories.

The author plays on similarities to detective stories all the time and the characters make reference to them as well as quoting the plots of Evadne Mount’s best-selling books. To a reader of Agatha Christie it soon becomes obvious what the author is doing with the narrative and who the murderer might be but the plot is still cleverly woven and the story is entertaining enough.

What I really didn’t like about the book, however, was some of the things that the author did to ape the Golden Age fiction and to try and set his book firmly in the period concerned. His characters use appallingly racist terms, are anti-Semitic and sexist. We all know that many people in the 1920s thought this way and some of our best loved detective stories from the era have these elements within them but I can think of no justification at all for casual racism and sexism to be included in a modern book even if it is set in that era. This really made me unhappy when I read the book. Other authors who have written books set in this period don’t do the same and I don’t think it’s needed here.

This could have been a very enjoyable mystery featuring references to lots of other books I love but, for me, it was spoiled by the inclusion of words and ideas that I don’t want to see in any book but especially not in one which is recently published.

9 thoughts on “A homage to the Golden Age of crime fiction

  1. Until you mentioned the racism and sexism I thought this was a book I had to read. I love the Golden Age, but the sexism and racism shock me when I read them. In a modern book, as you point out, it’s unacceptable.


      1. They are all implausible! I have never read one that I find totally believable – but this one is clever but more unbelievable than usual. I fimf Golden Age stuff delightful because of its air of fantasy.


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