Queen of Crime?

with appreciation to Jane Wittingham, author & librarian

Lately I’ve been (enjoyably) studying the women writers of the Golden Age of Detective Fiction. It seems to be very popular right now to bandy the term “Queen of Crime” about, and there are many arguments over who exactly deserves the title. What makes a Queen of Crime? Not necessarily bestsellerdom, nor popularity at the time of publication. Nor even popularity right now, since many arguments have developed between fans who’ve just discovered certain authors. Myself, I want good writing that’s strong on atmosphere and place, engaging characters and a plot that’s full of clues but not obvious. I have my own list — what’s yours?

I’m always looking to add to my list and depend on NetGalley and Crime Classics to give me access to authors that I might never have stumbled across on my own. I get the ebook free as long as I write a review within a reasonable time, usually the end of the month. Heavens, my TBR list never seems to go down and who has time to flounder through the overgrown weed-ridden fields that Amazon has become?

Thanks to the reviews and descriptions, I decided to give “Answer in the Negative” by Henrietta Hamilton a try. Never heard of her, but apparently someone has listed her as a Queen of Crime.

I will say that this book is an enjoyable mental puzzle in the tradition of the Golden Age classics although published in 1959, which I consider at least ten years outside the era (again, much argument but never mind). Unfortunately, it’s almost too mental.  In my review I gave only three stars because the puzzle seemed far too convoluted.  As near as I can figure, most of the action takes place in two separate office groupings of a single business, each with its own entrances and exits, loosely connected by various hallways and all existing within a larger office building with yet more entrances, exits and day-and-night porters.  At times following the sleuths (a charming couple) as they try to pin down timetables is like watching a bedroom farce – people constantly going in and out and narrowly missing each other.

Another reason for three stars is that I guessed the killer about a third of the way through, and after that it was just a matter of watching for substantiating clues or hints.  That doesn’t happen very often, and the story was engaging enough that I was quite willing to keep reading in the hopes of being proved wrong. I wasn’t, but oh well. I haven’t read any other books by this author, but based on this one, I wouldn’t call her a Queen of Crime. Maybe a second or third cousin to a Princess.

(By the way, images are, clockwise from left, Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh, Marjory Allingham and Dorothy L. Sayers.)