How on earth did they manage it?

Posted by Helen Saturday, July 19, 2014 ,

Having just read one of E. C. R. Lorac's novels, These Names Make Clues(not one of her best, as it happens though it strengthens my suspicion that Edith Caroline Rivett, a. k. a. E. C. R. Lorac, a. k. a. Carol Carnac, was a crossword addict who would not have dreamed of starting her day's activity without finishing the one in the Times first) I have once again noted a curious aspect to Golden Age Detective (GAD) novels. The characters, if they happen to be educated literate ones, which they often are, always seem to have read every single recently published book.

When did they have time to do all that and do their own work as well as other activities and keep up with their knowledge and reading of the various classics? Were there fewer books published in the thirties? There certainly were in the forties because of paper shortage but it all picked up again in the fifties. Were there more hours in the day, more days in the week? Books were certainly cheaper but not that cheap, relative to income, so there is the financial consideration to be taken into account. Or was it simply the fact that they did not have to do the washing up and there was no TV to watch?

While we are on the subject of detective fiction characters' reading, I may add that one aspect of P. D. James's novels have always bemused me. Her hero, who rises through the higher ranks of the Metropolitan Police is Adam Dalgliesh, Commander, I believe, towards the end of the series (so far) and a well-known and highly regarded poet. Now, I happen to be acquainted with poets and know about the extent of poetry reading in this country. Actually, extent is not really a word one would use, so negligible it is, when it comes to newly published poetry. Yet, whenever Adam Dalgliesh with whatever rank turns up to investigate a crime and interview the various suspects and people involved, among them he always finds a number who have read his poetry and have acquired his latest book. This is not remotely realistic.

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