And The New Fashion Is…

There’s a new fashion in books.

I noticed it about four months ago. I was walking past Foyles bookshop in Waterloo Station, and saw a book in the window – Murder in the Underground. It was a Golden Age detective story that I hadn’t seen before (as you probably know, Golden Age detective fiction is around 20s to 50s, and the leading writers are Dorothy L Sayers, Ngaio Marsh, Margery Allingham, Josephine Tey and of course Agatha Christie).

Well, I bought it, read it, enjoyed it and passed it on. But then I started noticing reprints of all kind of Golden Age detective fiction I had never seen before.

I presume these books are being reprinted because copyright on them is over. However, just putting a book in a book shop isn’t enough to make them sell – and they are selling. One of them, Mystery in White, is Waterstones surprise Christmad best seller. I’ve bought it myself for Christmas.

So why are they so popular? People say they are gentler, but I wouldn’t say that. Some of Ngaio Marsh’s and Margery Allingham’s death scenes made even me wince (especially that one in Surfeit of Lampreys!). Maybe it’s the focus on character. Perhaps it’s the complex plots. Perhaps it’s just the fact that they’re short – most modern detective novels are very long (one reviewer compared the length of a typical Christie Poirot, about 250 pages, to the length of Sophie Hannah’s Poirot book, over 400). Maybe it’s even that the particular period they are set and written in, mostly the 20s and 30s, is popular, especially after Downton Abbey got there.

Last year, as I remember, the popular books were the sado-masochistic romance novels, but no-ones buying those anymore. It’s just proof that there is fashion in books just as clothes and films. The timing of when you try to get your book published is very important now – and a book that is rejected one year could be the hottest property the next year.

As for me, I am loving this revival of Golden Age books. I can’t get enough of them. I hope this fashion last a while.


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