A New Discovery

Probably because I am so keen myself on the activities of reading, deducing and interpreting, I am the kind of consumer of crime fiction who’s in it for the puzzle. I can read the gore and violence stuff (to a certain level) but playing mental games with fear and vulnerability just isn’t as interesting. No, what pleases me above all else is the arrival on the scene of the master detective – professional or inspired amateur, I really don’t mind – who will discern revealing clues in otherwise ordinary objects and events, and who will read the difference between what the suspects say and the subtext they try to hide. Nothing makes me happier than a really good dénouement when all the pieces fall into place in a surprising yet convincing order. And so my heart lies with the Golden Age of crime, when detecting was all about being clever, and the victim was so often someone the community was glad to see dead.

Elizabeth Daly looking suitably benign and cozy

Elizabeth Daly looking suitably benign and cozy

Imagine my delight, then, when the wonderful Danielle reviewed a ‘lost’ Golden Age author, Elizabeth Daly (what would we do without Danielle’s recommendations – I think half the books I’ve bought in the past seven years have come from reading her blog!). I immediately bought a couple of books by her, and after I’d read the first one, I did something I practically never do and immediately read the second. And then I ordered two more. I had taken with a pinch of salt the much trumpeted claim on the book cover that Elizabeth Daly had been the favourite author of Agatha Christie. But having read her books, I now believe it is probably quite true. There is something very Christie-esque in the way the plots unfold and the ingenuity of the solutions. I’ve been trying to find out a bit about Elizabeth Daly’s life but she is a regular woman of mystery. She was the daughter of a New York justice of the peace, had enough private income to pursue her interests in writing and putting on plays, but didn’t publish her first novel until the age of 62. In the next ten years she wrote 15 more novels, featuring her gentleman detective, Henry Gamadge.

Henry Gamadge is an expert in antiquarian books and manuscripts and known to be discreet, trustworthy and shrewd. Although he’s a gentleman, he’s not the effete, foppish sort; rather, he takes advantage of his undistinguished features to blend in wherever he finds himself, and he’s not above involving himself in war work (intelligence, we presume). His location is a subdued New York in the 1940s and his clientele is made up of the kind of wealthy old families who are on the brink of extinction.  Whilst a louder, smarter set are close on their heels, these are the families for whom name, reputation and respectability are still worth killing. And given their innate secrecy, this is apt to happen when such families harbour a certifiable nutcase in their midst.

arrow pointing nowhereIn Arrow Pointing Nowhere, Gamadge receives – through the deployment of much subterfuge – an anonymous cryptic note asking for his help. More such missives follow, each one thrown from an upper window of a grand mansion belonging to a family of spotless respectability. Gamadge infiltrates their midst and has to figure out first of all what crime has been committed and who his client is. In Somewhere In The House, Gamadge has been asked to come and witness the unsealing of a room that has been blocked for 25 years and which may contain a valuable part of Grandmama Clayborn’s legacy. Harriet Clayborn has decided her family are so untrustworthy that attempts may be made to lift the treasures and so she reels Henry Gamadge in as an independent adjudicator. When the room is finally open, a gruesome discovery is made, and Gamadge finds himself involved in a series of crimes committed a generation ago.

I loved these novels! Sharp, elegant, clever and fast-moving, and Gamadge is a delight; a man whose compassion is matched only by his intellect, he effaces himself the better to observe others and always has a care for the dignity of the innocent. Most of all, though, I appreciated truly satisfying resolutions to the cases, ones I never saw coming even though I might have guessed I was being distracted and diverted. Golden Age crime in classic form.

42 thoughts on “A New Discovery

  1. Hmm, this makes me wonder how many of the books I’ve bought over the past few years have come from Dani too, via you 🙂

    For some reason I’m always more likely to read something by an author who didn’t publish her first book until she was 62. It makes me think that she had perhaps lived life and gleaned a few lessons from it before putting pen to paper. It makes me trust her, in a strange way, much more than the latest 20-something sensation. I’m not much into puzzles, so I probably won’t read this, but I liked reading about it anyway.

    • Ha! Probably best not to count! 🙂 I know just what you mean about an older author and I agree completely. I feel exactly the same. And indeed the last ‘first’ book I read, The Examined Life, by a psychoanalyst in his 60s, was absolutely brilliant.

  2. I’ve missed these completely and am now wondering if I dare order any because I have a really tight reading schedule between now and Christmas and from what you say I suspect that I would let it go hang while I devoured these one after the other. Maybe I would have the strength of character to leave them for a wonderful Christmas indulgence but then maybe not!! And an antiquarian book expert as well…….

    • Given you and I are both suckers for crime, I feel pretty sure that you would like these. I know how difficult it is, though, when the books are already piled up and suddenly new temptation strikes. They are relatively hard to get hold of in the UK, so that may turn out to be a blessing!

    • Ooh good news – I think that’s one of the ones I ordered. I’m SO delighted that you’ve read her and liked her, too. I completely agree – she should be on everyone’s crime fiction shelves.

  3. I’m so glad you liked Elizabeth Daly–aren’t the stories great? I want to read them in order and this reminds me it’s time to pick up another. I love the NYC setting and the period–elegant is the perfect work and Gamadge is a great character! Can’t you just picture them on the big screen in black and white? It’s a good writer who makes you want to pick up another book and then another after reading the first! By the way–your Wouk has a great cover design (am into the Sodom section) and I have The Other Typist out from the library, too, so you’ll have to let me know if you like it! And I think I get as many reading suggestions from you as you do from me! 😉 (I owe you an email, which will soon be forthcoming….).

    • Danielle, you strike gold for us both again! I would love to see these on the television – even in a new period costume drama. They’d be great! I’m really enjoying The Other Typist and you are definitely catching me up on the Wouk! It’s rather nice that we get so many reading suggestions from each other, even if it’s not so good for our bank balances and our overstacked shelves! Anyway, I’d rather have the books!

  4. I like the sounds of this. Firstly the period setting. Secondly that even you who sound a hardened veteran of the crime novel didn’t guess the outcome. That sounds really excellent to me and worth checking out!

    • I have to confess I am not the sharpest tool in the box when it comes to guessing murderers! But what happens too often these days is I find the solution unsatisfactory when it comes – too preposterous or too obvious. These were really good endings, clever and just right. If you need an entertaining pick-me-up these are the ticket. Let me know if you get hold of one!

  5. Right. Elizabeth Daly now goes into the TBR tome. Meanwhile, if you haven’t already discovered him, you might like John Dixon Carr. He’s another one with master detectives who follow clues and solve puzzles that often surprise in the end.

    • John Dixon Carr has gone straight on the list – and even better I see the same publisher who reprints Daly reprints him too! Marvellous – I do so love period crime. Thank you for the recommendation!

  6. I’m kind of ashamed to admit that I’ve read only one Agatha Christie book. I really enjoyed it but strangely haven’t picked up more. I did pick up some Ngaio Marsh books from the library recently however – she’s Golden Age, right?

    • Yes, Ngaio Marsh is Golden Age. I find her patchy, though. Some are good, some not so… I think her best is Death in a White Tie. After that, any novels that feature the theatre seem to be good ones. And beyond that you take your chances! Do try Agatha Christie again, if you feel like it. I think she’s never surpassed when it comes to puzzle setting and solving.

  7. I’m so glad you like her! I have one of her books on my TBR shelves, and I’m very happy to hear she’s that good. I look forward to reading her when I get the chance. She might be a good choice for my mystery book group at some point.

    • Absolutely! Just right for your mystery book group, I’d say. I’d love to be a fly on the wall at that discussion! And isn’t it nice when you read an enthusiastic review of a book you’ve got? It’s always such a nice surprise. 🙂

    • Exactly that. I’m an idiot because I store up comfort reading and sometimes won’t let myself crack it open even when I’m in need of it! I’m trying to be a bit less draconian with myself otherwise those books will end up not getting read!

  8. Do you happen to know the order of the Gamage books? Her author page on Amazon doesn’t have them neatly listed.

    Thanks – I love Agatha Christie and a lot of the British mysteries, and my absolute favorites are the later Dorothy Sayers mysteries.


  9. I also like the sound of Elizabeth Daly and thanks to you I will never run out of books to order! The trouble comes at the other end of the cycle when I have to give them away (and can’t)!

    • Ha, well, I have a great deal of trouble when it comes to culling and don’t do it very often either! Actually I’m dreadful – I keep telling myself I won’t buy any more and guess what? I still can’t avoid temptation – or giving in to it! But let’s not tell Mr Litlove that, k? 😉

  10. This sounds wonderful! I feel the way I did when I discovered Michael Innes. (Whom everyone else probably already knew about, but still.)

    • Ooh now, Michael Innes – there’s someone who’s been on my TBR for ages but I haven’t yet got around to. You remind me to bump him up the list. The more great crime writers, the better, I say!

  11. Felony and Mayhem has done a great job of resurrecting out-of-print and/or Golden Age mysteries. Elizabeth Daly is one of the authors they publish (along with Marjory Allingham and Edward Crispin). Their webiste is fun, as well. So, I was aware of Elizabeth Daly but have never read anything by her. Of course, now I want to!!

    • Grad, I think you’d really like her. I didn’t know Felony & Mayhem before reading her books but now I’m very keen on reading more from their list. Anyway, let me know what you think of Daly – she’s perfect for the long cold weekends ahead.

  12. She sounds very intriguing. I was wondering if Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache series – which I LOVE – is a tribute to this. Given how similar the names are it’s possible.

    • I hadn’t thought of that, but the similarity is striking! And they are both gentle, cautious, kindly men. I think you’d like Daly – she’s definitely worth a try and I’d love to know what you think of her.

  13. Pingback: Tales from the Reading Room

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