Every now and then, however, one comes across the more left-wing point of view. This is not necessarily voiced by left-wing writers. Nicholas Blake, in reality C. Day Lewis, may have been left-wing and may have quoted advanced poetry in his books but his attitude to murder was no different from that of Dorothy L. Sayers, who also quoted poetry but was right-wing in politics.
There are some oddities. Timothy Fuller, for instance, in the one novel I have read, Reunion with Murder, calmly produces a plot in which a man is deliberately murdered because he is not terribly nice, his wife is unhappy being married to him (no particular reason), he is a Republican and dislikes FDR. And anyway, decides, Jupiter Jones who is the detective of the series, a terrible war is coming and what's a dead body or two extra.
That is, obviously, contrary to all the basic assumptions that underlie the detective story. If a violent death does not matter all that much, if people are justified in killing somebody simply because his politics is not the accepted liberal one and his wife is not terribly happy, then what exactly are we talking about?
G. D. H. and Margaret Cole. Almost all their detective stories are credited to both of them but there is some doubt on the subject. Curtis Evans, an expert on the subject, has tried to analyze which one of them wrote which novel and came to the conclusion that the collection of short stories Mrs Warrender's Profession and the one novel about that lady, mother of a private detective, Knife in the Dark, were written by Margaret on her own.
On the whole, I agree with him. The style is lighter and not particularly didactic, which was usually her husband's. The plot takes place in late November 1941 in the mythical university town of Stamford, an amalgam of Oxford and Cambridge. The war is not much discussed except in terms of immediate discomfort. This is where a woman's touch becomes obvious. The town seems to have a good many refugees from occupied Europe and Germany as well as the usual bombed-out evacuees, who play no part. There is, however, a great deal of resentment of the foreign refugees, both in rather general and more specific terms. The latter revolves round food and accommodation. There is rationing and some shortages; the refugee women not only buy up food that is in short supply but are more skilful at bargaining than the middle class English ladies who, one assumes, did not shop themselves before the war and are not up to standing up to the tradesmen. I suspect Margaret Cole knew more about this than Douglas Cole.
On the other hand, I do wonder whether any woman would really write about young men (in the plural) going off the rails to the point of trying to commit suicide because they had been "led on" by a highly attractive older woman. That strikes me as an essentially male assumption but I might be wrong.
If you have not read Knife in the Dark and intend to do so, stop right here because I am going to discuss the plot and there will be spoilers. The victim is the young wife of a decent, hard-working don who is also greatly taken up by the problem of the refugees, something she resents with a passionate fury. Steve on Mystery*File describes Kitty Lake as a nymphomaniac but she is not. She does have one affair and she seems to enjoy herself flirting with young undergraduates and RAF cadets, stationed in the town, but it leads to nothing though some of the more impressionable ones go through agonies and attempt suicide. Other young men fall in love with her but it is made quite clear that she is really in love with her husband but for some reason he has built a wall between them - a somewhat sentimental and melodramatic idea that is never resolved because Kitty is murdered.
What follows is a great deal of discussion and investigation by the police with a shockingly large number of people ready to blame the foreigners, all or some of them, because Kitty had been so nasty to and about them and because, as one undergraduate says, you can never quite tell with foreigners. Mrs Warrender is shocked by what she perceives as a pogrom mentality.
She works out who the murderer is, though almost too late, and takes certain actions that ensure punishment being meted out to the right person. On the whole, her methods are not adequate. There is one clue, which is fairly laid out but it is not enough on its own. For the rest she relies on intuition or divine inspiration (the atheistic version, given the Coles' politics).
Patricial Craig and Mary Cadogan do not think highly of the novel in The Lady Investigates, arguing that the motive for the murder is very weak and implausible.
Gordon Lake gives in to a murderous impulse because he has taken exception to his wife's treatment of refugees. He is a humane person who resents the infliction of further cruelties on those who have suffered in occupied Europe.
Kitty Lake is rude to the Polish Jewess Marta Zyboski, so Gordon Lake waits in the dark with a little Maori dagger and that is the end of Kitty.As a matter of fact, that is not what triggers off the murderous impulse but the discovery that Kitty Lake has been doing her best to get Marta Zyboski, an irritating woman who has realized that the British system may be benign but is not helpful, interned as enemy spy. She is also proved to be instrumental in getting Marta's sixteen year old son interned and nearly killed, something that shocks Mrs Warrender and even the Chief Constable who is convinced that foreign refugees are probably Nazi agents and generally no better than they should be.
It is the knowledge that his wife has behaved in a way not dissimilar from the Nazis whom the country is fighting that provides that murderous impulse. While the refugees are not shown to be necessarily attractive or admirable, their treatment receives strong implicit criticism. What Craig and Cadogan seem unable to understand that to left-wing political ideologues like the Coles (or, probably, just one of them) the idea of murder for righteous, impersonal but, nevertheless, morally urgent reasons is perfectly understandable. This is not the thinking of the usual run of detective story writers but, in its insistence on moral absolutes, this is still a traditional example of the genre.
Dorothy L. Sayers crops up on this blog regularly so readers will not be surprised to learn that Tory Historian is reading another book about the great lady, detective story writer, theologian, literary critic, conservative thinker and all-round good thing (no, that is not a reference to her physical shape). This one is by David Coomes, media executive (not sure how else one can describe him) and erstwhile head of BBC Religious Department, entitled Dorothy L. Sayers - A Careless Rage for Life.
The book has more about Sayers as the writer of religious texts and plays but there is a chapter or two about the detective stories and more than that about the rest of her life. Mr Coomes seems to have been entranced by her personality while reading her huge correspondence, which is being published under Barbara Reynolds's editorship.
What appealed to TH, however, was a paragraph at the end of Chapter 1, a hilarious and terrifying account of the "battle of the scripts" that preceded the creation and broadcasting of Dorothy L. Sayers's famous and notorious sequence of plays The Man Born to be King, about which TH blogged some time ago. (TH remains of the opinion, pace some commenters, that there were better detective story writers than Miss Sayers but few as erudite on other subjects.)
Mr Coomes quotes Miss Sayers's opinion that "What we make is more important than what we are", then goes on:
It is the comment of someone who obsessively guarded her private life. Most people would say:: What we make is because of what we are ... because of we have experienced, endured, wept and laughed over, been defeated by, despaired of, embraced, rejected, come through.That may be true but TH is compelled to agree with Miss Sayers - whatever went into the creation of what one makes, that is what matters most. Furthermore, would it not be wonderful if writers, artists and actors would remember that dictum and talk less about themselves in endless interviews and self-analysis. What we make is more important than what we are. Let that be every writer's motto.
Let's face it, from a conservative point of view, anything that concerns Jane Austen is important and she died on July 18, 1817.
Some other important things happened on this day, as well.
For example, in 1872 the Ballot Act received its Royal Assent, thus introducing the concept of secret ballot into British politics. Sadly, one must admit, that concept is being eroded at the moment through the indiscriminate and badly supervised use of the postal ballot.
In 1920, the Cenotaph, Sir Edward Lutyens's great memorial to the dead of World War I that has since become a memorial to all those who died in battle, was unveiled.
And in 2009 and last World War I veteran, Henry Allingham died.
No, not Hitler's but Macmillan's whose fiftieth anniversary we remembered yesterday. A couple of days ago the Conservative History Group was addressed by the man who knows absolutely everything about that day, the historian D. R. Thorpe, author of a trilogy or prime ministerial biographies, Eden, Macmillan and Douglas-Home as well as that of Selwyn Lloyd, the Chancellor of the Exchequer who was, in some ways, the cause of it all.
As an amusing incidental point, it needs to be mentioned that Supermac won the Orwell Prize last year. What would George Orwell have made of that?
The roots of that night, he said, lay in the William Wallace case of 1931, the first in legal history when a conviction for murder was overturned on appeal. It was largely because of that case that Selwyn Lloyd, then a young lawyer, became a fervent abolitionist and, subsequently, joined Sidney Silverman's campaign against capital punishment. It also meant that under Macmillan he could take any job but that of Home Secretary, as he explained to the Prime Minister. So, when Macmillan decided, probably erroneously, in 1962 in the wake of disastrous by-election results, to get rid of his "sound money" Chancellor of the Exchequer, Selwyn Lloyd and put in an expansionist one, Reginald Maudling, he had a problem on his hands. Selwyn Lloyd had been Foreign Secretary under Eden and, briefly, under Macmillan so the Home Office would have been the obvious place to move him to but that could not be done. What to do?
Macmillan's answer was to offer the man a peerage (though not the Lord Chancellorship as he did not think Selwyn Lloyd was a notable enough lawyer, an ironic idea given subsequent developments) and the chairmanship of Martin's Bank. Whether the latter was in the Prime Minister's gift is unclear and it was never tested as both offers were refused and Selwyn Lloyd retired to the back benches, to the applause of all.
However, Macmillan found that he had to bring the reshuffle forward by some months because of RAB Butler's deliberate indiscretion to a friendly journalist and also he extended it in order not to make it seem like a simple sacking of the Chancellor. Seven Cabinet Ministers were sacked and thirty-nine posts were affected. All in all fifty-two people were moved around and a great deal of bitterness trailed the Prime Minister thereafter. And RAB Butler lost the slender chance he might have had of succeeding as leader of the party. But then, in my opinion, he did not have what it takes to be a Prime Minister.
One of the most important British and Irish battles fought in 1690 with William III's forces triumphing over those of James II, thus putting the final touch to the Protestant or, as it is mostly known, Glorious Revolution.
She was at the heart of English cultural, especially musical life of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, wrote several important books and hundreds of articles as well as translating books, songs and opera librettos from various languages, particularly Russian and many analytical programme notes for the Queen's Hall Prom concerts and a few others. She was friendly with Sir Henry Wood, Sir Edward Elgar and Sir Granville Bantock and many others, too numerous to list as they say.
It is hard to tell what Rosa Newmarch's greatest achievement was but TH would place high her promotion of Russian music and Russian culture in general, as well as the introduction (with Wood and Bantock) of the music of Sibelius and of Janáček. Enough there for several life-times.
What caught TH's attention among all these matters is a short paragraph on what might be called the vagaries of publishing.
Several of Mrs Newmarch's books had been published by Bodley Head (John Lane Ltd) but in 1912 its manager, Herbert Jenkins, decided to set up his own publishing firm and Rosa Newmarch, a friend as well as an author went with him. This is what Mr Stevens says (and his own style leaves something to be desired):
Herbert Jenkins was immediately successful with several popular works including his own witty and amusing series of Bindle novels, which sold well and established him financially, so that he could embark on more ambitious literary, if less remunerative, publications. Although Herbert Jenkins died in 1923, the firm thrived as a small publishing house until 1964 when it combined with another publisher [Barrie & Rockliffe], becoming Barrie and Jenkins. That was subsequently taken over by Hutchinson, which in turn merged with Century and later Random House.As it happens, Bodley Head was also eventually acquired by Random House. That paragraph sums up the history of British publishing in the second half of the twentieth century - a catastrophe many of us watched as it unfolded. Hardly any small or medium sized publisher retained its independence and the pretence that the various component parts of the conglomerates retained their own imprints was believed only by the very gullible.
What goes around comes around. Twenty-first century technology changed much of that. Indeed, even towards the end of the last century small publishers started springing up, using the ever more skilful desktop publishing methods; authors rejected by the big boys and girls decided to publish their own work and the words "vanity publishing" were used only by those big boys and girls. (After all, Herbert Jenkins published his own books, Hogarth Press published the Woolfs and their various friends and relations and so on. Nobody called that vanity publishing.)
Print on demand, e-books, kindle, advertising on the internet and through social media have all made the small publisher's life considerably easier.
Lewis Stevens's own book is published by Troubadour Publishing Ltd under its Matador imprint or, in other words, it was self-published because, presumably, none of the big boys and girls had heard of Rosa Newmarch and were no interested in her. A professional woman who has achieved a great deal but was not on the left? Pshaw!
As TH is a great book-lover, one thing remains troublesome. Will these books survive if only as many copies are published as are required immediately or if they are published only on the internet? One hopes so, of course, but it is a worrying thought. At the same time, it is a cheering thought: small publishers might become bigger but not too big. In any case there is now a far greater variety of publishers and publications than there were when the big conglomerates were conquering all.
For all those who are in or near London this Thursday evening: D. R. Thorpe will be speaking about "The Night of the Long Knives", Macmillan's infamous Cabinet reshuffle 50 years ago. Of course, he did not allow gossip on the subject to swirl round Westminster for months beforehand but struck suddenly. Here are the details. Hope to see some of you there.