In the days when crime did not pay as well

December 8, 2012 § 1 Comment

I read within one genre of novels: murder mysteries. I use this old term because most of the crime novels I read are from a bygone era. In the early nineties, I read two crime novels by Patricia Cornwell. I remember almost nothing of them except that the murderer was a serial killer in both. Modern crime novels, I decided, were not for me. Do things depicted have to be so extreme, so raw and so terrible?

When I read an interesting crime story that is well written, I feel myself to be in a literary nirvana. Do crime writers today write as well as their predecessors? The following quotations come from the first chapter of crime novels published in the 1950s.

John had, by now, reached that well-defined stage in intoxication when every topic becomes the subject of exposition and generalisation, when sequences of thought range themselves in the speaker’s mind, strewn about with flowery metaphor and garlanded in chains of pellucid logic; airborne flights of oratory to which the only obstacle is a certain difficulty with the palatal consonants.                                                                            

Smallbone Deceased by Michael Gilbert (1950)

‘I’ll stay late’ he said. ‘So long as I’m not being asked just as a husband-sitter. But tell me one thing—or, rather, a series of things. Are you as luxurious, greedy, mercenary, unscrupulous, selfish, faithless, ambitious, and lax as ever?’                                                

‘I’m a civilized woman’ she said . . . .                                                                                             

The Widow of Bath by Margot Bennett  (1952)

He [Galloway] tried desperately hard to be a sport. He fished, played golf and cricket in the summers, curled at the Granite Club in the winters, wore a crew cut, and drove his Cadillac convertible with the top down even in weather which forced him to turn the heater on full blast to keep from freezing to death. Now in his late thirties, he still appeared somewhat lacking in coordination in spite of all the exercise he took, and his round face showed residual traces of teenage acne and adolescent uncertainty.                

The soft talkers by Margaret Millar (1957)


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