MURDER AND MYSTERY IN THE GOLDEN AGE BY FIONA VEITCH SMITH

Fiona Veitch Smith was formerly a journalist but is now an author of books for adults and children. She has also written theatre plays and screenplays. Her Poppy Denby Investigates books, which includes The Jazz Files and its sequel The Kill Fee,were shortlisted for the CWA Dagger. She will be taking part in the Endeavour Press Crime Fiction Festival.

My novels in the Poppy Denby Investigates series have been hailed by some critics as murder mysteries in the ‘true spirit’ of the Golden Age. But what does this mean? Crime fiction of the Golden Age was primarily plot driven. They were intellectual puzzles. Christie, Chesterton (with irony) and of course, prior to that, Conan Doyle, are all are precursors of the modern ‘police procedural’ novel – albeit with amateur detectives.

They were often governed by ‘rules’ and strict genre conventions. However, other authors tried to do something different – for example the later books of Dorothy L. Sayers (of which I’m a huge fan) and Anthony Berkeley. Berkeley argued for the evolution of the crime genre into something more complex and ‘literary’.

So where do my books fit in? Although my books pay homage to the Golden Age novels, and in some ways might be considered a pastiche, they are only that on the surface. Readers of ‘cosy crime’ will get far more than a simple whodunit, as within the mystery, fluff and fun is a social commentary on the 1920s themselves.

“The 1920s – alternatively known as the Roaring Twenties, the Jazz Age and the decade of the Bright Young People – is characterised by a generation desperate to leave the horror of war behind them and to create a ‘bright new world’. Little did they know that the world they were so blithely building would crash into economic darkness within nine years, and be at war, once again, by the time Poppy turns 40.

But in the summer of 1920 they did not know this and they danced to new jazzy music from America, wore skimpy dresses and cropped (or ‘shingled’) their hair that scandalised their Edwardian mothers. Everything was new, daring and very self-consciously turning its back on the past.” (from ‘The World of Poppy Denby: an historical note, The Jazz Files)

So while I appreciate the comparison to Christie and Sayers, my books are intended to be a different beast. Firstly, I am writing historical novels. The Golden Age novels were not historical – although they are now part of our history.

The best historicals have some kind of intersection with the modern day and are not just a recreation of a bygone world. I am trying to say something about today through the lens of the past. So I select historical backdrops, scenarios and characters that have contemporary resonance. In The Jazz Files, I hope to draw attention to the role of women in society, then and now; the madness of war and the apparent inability of humanity to social engineer peace; the challenge to religious faith in a world of suffering; and the role of ‘outsiders’( race, disability, gender…). But all of this is wrapped up in a sparkling veneer of fun, jazz and fashion.

And then of course, there’s the mystery. I’m personally drawn to the genre as a quest for justice. I, like the millions of fans of crime and mystery around the globe, am able to vicariously re-order a chaotic world and empower the disempowered.

The mystery is solved and all is right again with the world … until next time.

Find out more about Fiona on her website: www.fiona.veitchsmith.com and follow her on Twitter: @FionaVeitchSmit

 

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