Guy: Hello. Welcome to Shedunnit. My name is Guy Cuthbertson. I am husband of Caroline Crampton and I am going to be interviewing Caroline today because this is a special episode, celebrating the fact that Shedunnit is reaching its third birthday.
So we’re going to be talking about three years of making this wonderful podcast, three years of me living with Caroline in a world of detective fiction as books pile up on the stairs and in the bedroom and three years of Caroline learning how to commit the most perfect murder. Caroline, would you like to tell us about how and why Shedunnit got going?
Caroline: Well, I think it started with me reading Martin Edwards’ book The Golden Age of Murder about three times in the space of three months and just thinking that he had done a really, really good job of synthesising a lot of very nerdy detail about a genre I was really interested in with an approach that made it completely readable to someone who didn’t know anything about the more obscure writers of the period. That set a lightbulb off in my head really because I thought, “Oh hang on. So it is possible to do something that is both incredibly niched and with mass appeal.” That’s really where the idea came from I suppose.
Guy: Right. So after three years, do you now have a very good idea about how to murder your husband?
Caroline: I would say the opposite really in that the amount of reading and thinking I do about detective fiction has shown me that you can’t get away with these things. I think the idea that there are just unsolved and undetected murders going on all the time, either in the period that I talk about or now is just not true. I think you just always get found out.
Guy: That’s a very optimistic outlook. Do you think that you would be a good detective?
Caroline: I think I would think I was a good detective. I think there’s a slight difference. I think I would be one of those overconfident, bumptious characters on a TV show who strides around, making nonsensical deductions based on particles of dust on windowsills that actually turn out to be not relevant at all. I think I would enjoy myself greatly.
I am not sure I would be hugely good at that and my few experiences with things like murder mystery dinner parties or boardgames or whatever have shown that I do not have some pretty natural inclination that makes me really good.
Guy: So at least one of your listeners though has assumed that you would be a good detective because they have asked who would be the Hastings to your Poirot.
Caroline: Yes. They very kindly cast me in the role of Poirot in this scenario. Yeah. I think maybe I am a Hastings truly.
Guy: Only in the stories every so often and occasionally acting as sidekick but not always.
Caroline: But not always and also in the instance of the novel Dumb Witness, more interested in the dog than the people. Yes. But let’s just imagine for a second that I could be a Poirot and I’m going to say that you would be my Hastings.
Guy: Right, very good. That’s an easy answer.
Guy: What about Morris the dog? Would he make a good dog detective?
Caroline: Yes. I think Morris would make a good – he would make a good show of being a detective. We say this often, right, when we’re out walking that Morris is very good at running around with his nose to the ground looking like he knows what he’s doing. The number of times he has actually caught a squirrel or found a missing item or something are I think zero.
Guy: But if the murder weapon was a tennis ball and someone has hidden it in a hedge, then he would be very good.
Guy: And if you had to find the nearest body of water, he would be very good and he has a very good memory for things that are important to him such as where he found the biscuit or people he likes, et cetera.
Caroline: Yes, he will stop at the same railings in our village every time because he has in the past received a biscuit by those railings.
Guy: Yes. So he could be used. I think I wouldn’t entirely rely on him. But Morris has a part to play.
Caroline: Yes, OK.
Guy: That is reassuring. That’s good. It was worth getting a dog after all. So good. Let’s move on then. So Caroline, what would say have been the highlights of Shedunnit so far? Just name say three particularly memorable things or things you’ve learnt during the course of your time doing it.
Caroline: Well, I really enjoyed doing the live episode at the Dublin Podcast Festival in 2019. That was the first time I had really seen Shedunnit listeners in real life and so that was really, really good. I very much enjoyed going to the pub with them afterwards and talking about the novels that they were reading and meeting someone who worked at a bookshop in Dublin came and we talked about what crime fiction she has stalked and it was just a really nice in-person version of doing the podcast, which is quite a sort of solitary experience on my end. I do it by myself in a cupboard a lot of the time. So that was good and …
Guy: So in terms of the travel, obviously yes. Most of Shedunnit is produced at home in a cupboard. If people didn’t realise that, it is a very nice walk-in wardrobe attached to our bedroom, which is soon to be redecorated, which is very exciting. But there are the chances to go out and about to sometimes interview people offsite and also we’ve done a little bit of visiting places associated with detective fiction. For instance we went to Wallingford partly for my purposes. But while we were there, we also did some Agatha Christie literary association stuff. Do you find that useful, interesting? Would you like to do more of that kind of thing?
Caroline: Well, it’s a bit difficult because I personally find it interesting just as an enthusiast and fan of these writers. It’s quite hard to translate you going to a place and looking at a thing into audio that is then enjoyable for people who are not at that place to listen to. So I would say actually – you know, to your previous question, a second highlight was the episodes I did about the Florence Maybrick case which if people haven’t heard, that was a famous arsenic poisoning case in trial in Liverpool, which is near where we live and the house where it all happened is still there, still a residential home.
So although it was a bit difficult to work out a way in which I could incorporate visiting the site in the episode, I did in the end record myself going for a trip to look at it. So if you listen to the episode, you sort of can hear me on the train and then you can sort of hear me walking and all this kind of stuff.
So hopefully that adds texture and interest. So I did really enjoy it. That was definitely a highlight getting to do that just because it was easy and approachable from where we live and then I did actually subsequently get asked to be in a television show that filmed inside the house. So I got to see inside it although that’s not on the episode but I believe it’s still on iPlayer. So if you’re in the UK and can access iPlayer, you can find it on the programs called Murder, My Family and Me or some version of that.
Guy: Very good. And sometimes these things happen by accident. So we were down in Somerset, weren’t we, and we ended up by chance going through a road, wasn’t it? It was in the Road Hill murder.
Caroline: That’s right, yeah, and it happened to be the in-between because I make the episodes at least a week ahead of when you hear them often more. We happen to be there the weekend in between me having already sent the episode off to be edited, but it not having come out yet. So I was right at sort of about my peak knowledge of what happened in that case and we happen to be driving through that place. So we stopped to take some pictures.
Guy: Yes. But I do get your point about trying to record places and if you’re not careful, you end up doing the bad radio for documentary thing of beginning with crunching gravel.
Guy: Lots of crunching gravel and then hello, I am standing outside blah, blah, blah. Whether you are or not is not entirely clear. But you may just be in the sound effects studio with a small tray of gravel that you are crunching. But yes, it’s classic attempts to go outside for outside broadcasts and some bird song and then you have to interview someone in a whistling gale to show that you’re being active and you got off your chair and have stepped outside.
Caroline: Yes. So I haven’t done a huge amount of that just because it is a radio or audio cliché and I’m not sure that it in my case adds a lot. So I – yeah, mostly I’m just in the house, in the cupboard.
Guy: Good. Well, not good but it is nice to see you in there working away and of course the scenario for us during coronavirus is that we’ve both been working from home. We’ve both been working from home. So we’ve gotten used to living in a small house but managing to produce podcasts and do our jobs and all sorts and supply tea to each other and pat the dog and all the usual domestic life. So are there any other highlights or memories from Shedunnit that you would like to pluck out of the air? I should say none of this has been scripted by the way as you can tell. So I’m asking her without her having had the chance to prepare these answers.
Caroline: I think probably having part of a Shedunnit episode played on Radio New Zealand was a particular highlight. They have the sort of public broadcaster there. They have a radio show where they play bits of interesting podcast that they’ve come across and talked to the people who made them and someone from that show reached out to me to ask if they could include some of Shedunnit and that was really exciting because I’ve never been to New Zealand, probably will never go to New Zealand. It’s really a long way away.
But after it played there, I noticed a definite uptick in the number of people from New Zealand who were listening and commenting and following the podcast and yeah, that was really exciting to connect with people from a place that I have no personal connection.
Guy: So you do have quite a close relationship shall we say with your listeners for Shedunnit. Lots of people writing to you, sending things in the post sometimes, often discussing favourite books, people asking have you read X, Y, Z. So it has not just been a podcast. It has been a friendship group in some ways and there have been people who have become friends through the world of detective fiction.
Caroline: Yes, definitely and I’ve made the most of that in one sense by choosing to go the route of having the Shedunnit Book Club as the main way that the podcast supports itself. So those are the several hundred most dedicated fans who I talk to often most days in the club forum. But even beyond that in the wider listenership of people who just listen to the free podcast.
Yeah, people email me to tell me that they bought a book that I had mentioned on the show and they’ve read it and they’ve enjoyed it. And what do I think they should read next? That kind of thing all the time.
So yes, it’s really nice to have a productive thing to connect with people because I’ve done podcast before or I’ve done sort of media things before where people write to you but they – there isn’t really then a way of continuing the conversation. They write to you and it’s lovely. They write to you to say, “I really enjoy your podcast.” But then there’s not really then a next thing I can say back that keeps the conversation going whereas with Shedunnit because we all have the shared interest in these books, it feels much more natural and it flows more easily.
Guy: Yes, yes. So if we now try to think about Shedunnit at home being recorded in this house that we share, one of the ongoing battles that we’ve had is trying to find enough space in this little house for all of your detective books, which seem to be delivered by the postman on a daily basis. So could you just say a little bit about what your policy is regarding which ones you keep, which ones go to the charity shop, which books you would like to acquire and which ones you are quite happy leaving in the public library?
Caroline: So I think my top level criteria is the ones I want to own are the ones from the actual period that Shedunnit covers, so 1920s, 1930s, 1940s. I do read some modern crime fiction sometimes to get an angle on an episode or because I’m going to interview the writer. But I don’t often then keep hold of those books because I’m not going to refer back to them only to find them again for a quotation and if I am, they’re fairly easily accessible online quickly.
The ones that I like to keep and hoard and look at are the ones from the actual period that are very difficult to get hold of any other way. So when you find a second hand copy, that’s it. That’s the only way you can read that book and yes. So writers like Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers and a few others who are really terrifically popular at the time and have stayed so popular. There are loads and loads of copies of – and then there were none in many millions of different editions and so on.
Somebody like ECR Lorac, the ones that have not been republished by the British library, there are no copies of those or barely any. So they’re really expensive and quite old and quite valuable and quite rare. So things like that are the kind of things that if I had unlimited budget to spend on this kind of thing, I would want to make a collection of original Collins Crime Club, ECR Lorac for instance.
Guy: So why do you think these books have remained out of print? The fact that they’re so expensive would suggest that people do want them and they are great books, some of these. The Lorac books, I know you really enjoy.
Is there any sense that you have acquired of why some books have remained in print always, some have been returned to the public eye through the British library reprints and others have just been left to exist as very expensive copies on eBay?
Caroline: So I’ve asked lots of different people this question in the course of doing the podcast and there were a few themes that emerged but I don’t think there’s any one obvious answer. One of the main reasons is just that for a substantial chunk in the middle to late part of the 20th century, the Golden Age style of murder mystery was really unfashionable in publishing.
Everything was about being gritty and police procedurals and thrillers and serial killer thrillers were really popular in the ‘80s and ‘90s. People got really interested in gory contemporary true crime and they wanted something equivalent in their crime fiction.
I’ve heard people say – I think Martin Edwards said to me once that in the ‘80s and ‘90s you could barely get a Golden Age style murder mystery published, let alone convince anyone to republish one from the original period, which obviously now seems really remote from us when Richard Osman’s books which are clearly Golden Age murder mystery-inspired are now breaking records for selling millions of copies in their first week and all this kind of thing.
Guy: And also the ‘80s and ‘90s was a Golden Age for Golden Age adaptation.
Guy: So obviously the great Joan Hickson Marples and the Poirots. So was there a sense that people were getting all their Golden Age fiction through the TV and therefore there wasn’t much space then for producing novels as well?
Caroline: I think there is a bit of that. But I also think another major thing about publishing that I’ve come to learn is that it’s incredibly name-driven. So Agatha Christie has never been out of print and her adaptations have only driven more popularity to her books and thus more adaptations and round and round it goes whereas – I mean I would say of the writers from the period, I often talk about Dorothy L. Sayers as being sort of next down from Christie in terms of enduring popularity.
There has only been I think two attempts to make a Peter Wimsey TV show and neither of them ran for a long time or that easy to find on streaming services. So there’s a vast difference even between those two and then when you get down even further to someone like ECR Lorac who was very popular – well, popular enough to sustain a fulltime writing career during her own life and who then just never got reprinted after her death and therefore 50 years have gone by. No TV adaptations, no plays, no audio adaptations.
Even if you could know that these books existed, it will be very difficult to get hold of one and this is something else they’re talking to fans who are older than me. They say how even the last 10, 15 years of the internet becoming the way every kind of business and aspect of life is transacted has changed this enormously just because like my friend Moira has talked about how she used to carry around a notebook with her at all times in which she had handwritten a list of detective novels she wanted based on her reading other nonfiction in the genre and bibliographies and things and anytime she saw her bookshop anywhere she was, she would go in and look for anything on her list. That’s so labour-intensive and takes so long whereas now she could have just typed her list into Google.
Caroline: And find out everything about these books and where they are and who has them. So I think that has also contributed to the change in republication.
Guy: So the same applies to adaptations for TV and film as well. It used to be very hard to get hold of old copies of BBC adaptations from the ‘70s and so forth and now they’re on YouTube or they’re on some other iPlayer type service.
So actually there are lots of people now enjoying old Golden Age adaptations from ‘70s and ‘80s which they did not see at the time but which they’ve now been able to get a hold of and we recently watched a Miss Marple that had been remastered, one of the ‘80s ones.
Guy: That looked so much better and was so much more enjoyable now that you actually had proper colour and didn’t look like it was in kind of variations of brown and grey, which is what the ‘80s BBC Joan Hickson Marples tended to look like.
Caroline: Yes. That was really good. I think that was the moving finger that they’ve done and it was on iPlayer. We do have a DVD box set but the quality is distractingly bad.
Guy: And in a way that has contributed to some people’s ideas of these programs being a little bit kind of old-fashioned or dull almost and it did make quite a change to see them in Technicolor.
Guy: So we also recently saw the 1974 film of Murder on the Orient Express, which you had not seen before.
Guy: With Albert Finney as Poirot. Now that in itself is quite amusing given that Finney made his name through kind of British new wave cinema with gritty northern working class films, some great ones in the ‘60s and then there he is playing the Belgian detective. So how did you find that?
Caroline: I really enjoyed it. I thought it was really good. His Poirot is obviously nothing like the David Suchet Poirot which I think for a lot of people has become the default. His Poirot is a lot more volatile and impatient and eccentric. But I know Agatha Christie famously said that she really liked the Finney portrayal. She liked it better than any other one that she had seen and she famously did not like how anybody played Poirot.
I could sort of see what she meant because I think he is meant to be a bit of an agent of chaos at times in the stories and making him too neat and too managed and too polite, as some of the portrayals do, loses that quality. I also thought the film in general did a really good job of emphasising the claustrophobia of a murder investigation on a train, which some of the fancier, modern ones with wide angle lenses sort of don’t have that.
But the final denouement scene when there’s, what, 14 people in a train dining car all sat around the edge of the thing and Finney is just pacing up and down in the middle I think made it work really well. I’ve never seen a stage adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express but I’ve heard people say that it works really well on stage because it has that sense of containment and I thought that the film did it much better than the other ones I’ve seen.
Guy: Yes, and in a way, it was probably quite a cheap film to make. I think most of the budget would have gone on the salaries for all the stars. So it was a great film for seeing so many famous faces on screen together and also you end up playing the Wikipedia wormhole thing of whatever happened to Michael York.
Guy: What does he do these days? So you have to find out what happened to these people after the film. Or how did Sean Connery end up in this film? But anyway, we also recently played the boardgame called Murder on the Orient Express – but it’s called Orient Express I think.
Caroline: Orient Express, I think.
Guy: I think it’s not an official Christie boardgame and therefore it’s called Orient Express. Some people of course come to detective fiction through their great love of Cluedo. I was wondering whether you were ever a fan of detective fiction boardgames and whether they even work as a concept in your mind.
Caroline: So my family did not own a full-sized set of Cluedo but we had travel Cluedo which was this tiny postcard-sized board and tiny, tiny, little cards and little plastic things which we attempted to play a few times. But it was just too small and we did not really understand what was going on and therefore I formed this negative impression of Cluedo because mostly of the tiny board.
I think I then later played it on the proper full-sized version when I was at university and did really enjoy it. But it was maybe a bit late for me to form a kind of nostalgic attachment to it and I was already into reading the genre anyway.
But before we have another question, let’s here from the sponsor.
This episode is also sponsored by If I Go Missing The Witches Did It, an audio fiction series from Realm. It’s a contemporary fantasy slash satire series with a true crime twist, and it stars Oscar nominated actress Gabourey Sidibe as Jenna Clayton, a Black writer who vanishes without a trace in the Hudson valley. A white podcast host with a saviour complex takes up the case, and picks up the only clue to Jenna’s whereabouts: a set of voice memos detailing an investigation into a group of influencers she suspected were using magic to achieve their means.
What follows is a biting satire about influencer culture and online discourse, with the gripping narrative of a disappearance and an investigation mixed in too. It’s got contemporary resonance with its dissection of race and class and the internet, and it’s also got some spooky, witchy elements that feel very appropriate for this time of year. It’s been described as The Craft meets YOU meets Mean Girls, and from what I’ve heard that’s pretty accurate. Mystery fans who grew up online will love this show.
You can check out the whole Realm slate at realm.fm and you can listen to If I Go Missing The Witches Did It now, it’s available via the link in the episode description or by searching wherever you get your podcasts.
Guy: So by implication of what you’ve just said then, did you come to detective fiction through the books or through TV? What came first?
Caroline: Through the books and through just random chance of being on holiday with my family in a B & B and having read all the books I’ve taken with me and just got something off the shelf and it happened to be – the Miss Marple short story collection, The Tuesday Night Club also called The Thirteen Problems or sometimes Miss Marple and the Thirteen Problems. That is a collection of the Miss Marple short stories that Christie wrote before she wrote the first full length novel The Murder at the Vicarage, the first Miss Marple novel and that was actually the perfect introduction because they’re short stories. You read them quickly and it doesn’t really matter that the characters aren’t very developed because they’re just these little intellectual puzzles that are talked about rounder, after dinner, sitting around the fire type thing.
Yeah, I really enjoyed that while on holiday. At the time, I think I was maybe 11 or 12 and I got all my books from the library. I had a very regular visit in the library one day – one day a week after school, changing my stack of books for the next stack of books and of course the library had loads of Agatha Christie. So having enjoyed this one book on holiday, I then just started taking every single one that the library had until I had read all of the ones that they had and then I was starting to branch out further from there really.
Guy: So at your parents’ house in your childhood bedroom, you still got a lot of detective novels on the shelves then which presumably give you an insight into the young Caroline and what you were reading. There are all the Falco books …
Caroline: Yes, I was very into the Lindsey Davis Roman detectives and I do like historical detective fiction. This isn’t actually something I’ve really talked about on the podcast because I haven’t found a good way of doing it in an episode yet. But yeah, I do really enjoy Cadfael and Falco and – are there other ones? I must have read other ones like that as well. Yeah, that sort of genre.
Guy: So there was certainly at one point then an interest in historical fiction and detective fiction and the overlap between the two.
Caroline: Well, you know, my favourite book is the one about the woolpack.
Guy: Yes, The Woolpack, which is sitting on the shelf in the house. To me of course Falco is the great Austrian ‘80s popstar. But I have occasionally heard them on the radio and they do sound strangely like – I was going to say Cadfael in a fancy dress, which of course Cadfael is Poirot in a fancy dress as it is and Poirot now is – I don’t know. Fancy dress for fans of contemporary police procedural or something.
Caroline: Yeah. Well, you could argue that all of these things are just Sherlock Holmes in fancy dress.
Caroline: You know, that …
Guy: And Sherlocks Holmes himself wore a lot of fancy dresses …
Guy: As you all know from any student party. Good. So have you also then thought about writing a detective novel? Several listeners have asked this. They want to know what type of detective novel or mystery novel. Maybe I’m getting my terms wrong there. I don’t know. Mystery/crime/detective fiction. Would you ever attempt that or would you now be wary of doing so because of all your years reading the experts?
Caroline: Well, you know this because you live with me, that I talk about this fairly regularly and do nothing about it, which I think is probably fairly typical for dedicated readers of mysteries. I think if I were ever to actually attempt it seriously, I would probably want to go back to my teenage love of historical detective fiction.
I think somehow that feels more possible to my brain than writing something contemporary I guess because I don’t read very much contemporary stuff. I don’t really feel like I have the right to contribute to it.
Yes, I think it would be difficult for me because everything would feel unoriginal. I think I would really battle with trying to feel like I wasn’t just copying someone else just because of having read so many different who-had-done-it scenarios. Maybe that’s the wrong way to approach it. Maybe I could write the identical plot to a different writer but I would still do it in my way and maybe it would be enjoyable that way. But yes, I think I would really struggle with that.
Guy: And if you’re doing a historical fiction approach that requires quite a lot of research, would you be up for that and is that part of the joy do you think of writing detective fiction for people who now maybe are writing them today but setting them in the ‘30s, that it requires you sitting in the public library.
Caroline: Well, I think turning to that second part first, I think a big part of the reason people do it now is mobile phones. That I thought Maureen Johnson who I had on the podcast a few months ago who writes YA detective fiction set in the modern day but with a very strong Golden Age vibe to it, she said that she spends so much of her time trying to work out how her characters are going to ditch their phones to that her plots can actually take off because, you know, she’s writing about teenagers in the 2020s and most of the scenarios that she puts them in could be answered with, well, just call someone and obviously she wants to be more interesting than that.
So I think a lot of the people setting things back in time is just because it was easier. Less forensics, no GPS, all these things that make Golden Age mysteries more difficult. Then in terms of research, I actually think the reason that I instinctively gravitate towards something historical is because I would – the research would make me feel comfortable. It would make me feel like I was adding something whereas I’m not especially confident with just pulling things out of my brain and going, “I think you should have to pay money for this.” I would feel like I had done genuine work if I would have to research it.
Guy: So let’s move on. I’ve got some quickfire questions.
Guy: Because some listeners have asked your favourites and I’ve got a few speedy favourites for you. To start off with then, your favourite female detective.
Caroline: I think I have to say Harriet Vane. This will not be a surprise to most listeners but yes, Harriet Vane from Dorothy L. Sayers’ novels.
Guy: Your favourite location in a detective novel.
Caroline: I think the Scotland parts in The Singing Sands by Josephine Tey because there’s both a sort of lowland-highland-mainland Scotland location and then he also goes on a trip to a Hebridean island.
Guy: The most unconvincing of murders or detections that you’ve come across as in, “Oh, yes. So I can see someone drank a cup of tea. Therefore it was him. He murdered him on that specific moment on that day three years ago.”
Caroline: Oh. I don’t know if I can think of a specific instance. But I feel like Margery Allingham gets a bit lax with that kind of thing later on in her canon. She was never I think trying to do the whole fair play thing in quite the way the others were. But there’s definitely some ones later on where Campion will just casually be like, “Oh, I can see some fingerprints. They’re yours, right?” which doesn’t feel fully in the spirit of the thing.
Guy: So who is your favourite Poirot in terms of TV, film, stage potentially?
Caroline: I’ve never seen a Poirot play on stage actually. Christie famously cut him out of when she adapted that. So it’s only other people’s adaptations and black coffee. Favourite Poirot. I really like Peter Ustinov.
Guy: I can see the death threats heading your way now and people unfollowing you on Twitter because you’re one of the Ustinov gang.
Caroline: I know I’m supposed to say David Suchet and he is really good. You know, he’s almost like the kind of gold standard. But I really enjoyed the Peter Ustinov films. I think they’re fun.
Guy: So which is your favourite Agatha Christie novel?
Caroline: Do I have to pick one? It’s really hard.
Guy: Yes. This is the point of the question.
Caroline: I would say A Murder is Announced.
Guy: Which is your favourite Dorothy L. Sayers?
Caroline: Gaudy Night.
Guy: Which is your favourite murder?
Caroline: Just full stop. The favourite – so the way that someone was murdered.
Guy: Anything you liked. Best way of doing it, best person because you disliked them the most and they most deserve to be murdered, most ludicrous.
Caroline: OK. I am going to say a – it’s not one particular but it’s a genre of murders shall we say, which is kind of Heath Robinson murder booby traps. There’s a good one in Overture to Death by Ngaio Marsh, which I think I can say this without it being a spoiler because it’s in the sort of first few chapters of the book where someone has rigged a piano so that when you put the pedal down and they knew what piece the victim was going to play.
So they knew at what point they would put the pedal down. There’s a gun inside the piano that then fires and hits them in the chest and they die. So yes, I enjoy that kind of absurd, contrived machine.
Guy: So which is your favourite animal in a detective novel?
Caroline: I think it probably has to be Bob the dog in Dumb Witness by Agatha Christie, the iconic fox terrier.
Guy: And which is your favourite clergyman?
Caroline: That’s such a strange question.
Guy: I can think of loads. There were loads.
Caroline: There are loads. It’s true. I can’t remember any of their names. Can I say collectively I like all the clergymen in Close Quarters by Michael Gilbert, which is basically every character is a clergyman. It’s a murder mystery set in the collegial close at Salisbury.
Guy: So were most detective novelists of the Golden Age happy people, do you think?
Caroline: I think it varied in so much as it does in the general population, or I don’t know that they were necessarily any happier or unhappier than writers as a cohort. You have examples of people like Anthony Berkeley, for instance, who was I think, quite a kind of dark, moody, troubled person. And then someone like Gladys Mitchell, who was a teacher, and always, until she retired, a kind of part-time writer, she was, I think, quite cheery, with a full active career and life, and doesn’t in anything I’ve read about her come across as someone who was particularly self-absorbed or inclined towards depressive thoughts or anything like that.
So, I don’t think it’s necessarily possible to talk about them as a cohort like that. But yeah, I would say they probably have the same inclinations that writers in general have, which is towards sort of self-involvement, self-criticism, and a general sense of feeling isolated and misunderstood.
Guy: Right. So that wasn’t quite how I imagined to say Agatha Christie, or Dorothy L. Sayers. But…
Caroline: Well Sayers was definitely, I think, very self-critical.
Caroline: And quite inclined to underestimate her own work, especially when she was younger. I think later she gained more confidence as she became successful. But there’s lots of letters and so on from her to her friends, where she’s sort of saying, “Do you think this is any good?” Or, “Do you think this is a good idea? I don’t think it is.” She’s always pre-empting. And like the fact that she and her friends called their writing group at university, the Mutual Admiration Society, the whole idea was they called it that because they didn’t want anyone else to call it that first. They thought they were going to be criticized for just, you know, hyping each other up and it not being a properly intellectual activity. So they thought “If we call ourselves that, then no one can accuse us of being that” which I think is quite a defensive posture to adopt, rather than just saying, “We would have a writing group. It’ll be fun. We’ll encourage each other.”
Guy: So, final question, then of your Golden Age Detective novelists, which of them is most likely to get a job with the police as a detective today?
Caroline: The writers or their detectives?
Guy: The writers.
Caroline: The writers. I think, probably Agatha Christie, because…
Guy: The younger Agatha Christie.
Caroline: The younger Agatha Christie, because she was quite an expert on poisons and chemicals and so on. She had that whole part of her life where she trained as a dispenser in the First World War and then retrained for the Second World War. And she kept up correspondence into the ‘50s and ‘60s with sort of chemical experts. She was, I think, quite interested and expert. So I think in that sense, she would be quite a good, maybe expert witness or a technical consultant or something like that.
Guy: So she wouldn’t be a detective as such, which of them would get a job actually solving crimes?
Caroline: Oh I don’t know. I don’t know if any of them would be any good. I mean, Dorothy L. Sayers tried. Famously, she and her husband tried – they went over to France and tried to solve the Nurse Daniels disappearance in the ‘30s, because her husband was writing about it as a journalist. And she thought, “Well, I’m a detective fiction writer, I’ll go too.” And they didn’t get anywhere with it.
Guy: Were any detective novelists murdered?
Caroline: Oh. There must have been, but not any of the well-known ones, I don’t think.
Guy: So, I think we but had come to an end but we’ve got one last question from a listener, which is, if it’s not mystery novels, what is your next favourite genre?
Caroline: I feel it will be slightly cheating to say sort of historical mystery novels, but I do really like those. I think the other genre of book that I was really into as a teenager, and could have followed through into adulthood but didn’t so much was science fiction. I did used to read a lot of science fiction and fantasy, particularly things to do with time travel when I was in my teens, and I do still have a few books from that time that I revisit every so often, but I haven’t really kept up with or explored in more detail. But I could have seen that happening.
Guy: Right, I think we had better end, so…
Caroline: It’s dinner time.
Guy: It’s dinner time. The dog needs to be fed and walked. So thank you very much, Caroline Crampton, for being here in your usual armchair today. And I hope listeners haven’t been too put off by having to listen to me asking the questions. And normal service will resume in the next episode. Don’t worry, this isn’t a new thing. So thank you very much. Farewell. And don’t have nightmares.
Caroline: This episode was hosted by Guy Cuthbertson, I guess, and the guest was me, Caroline Crampton. You can find links to our work and our social media in the episode description. I publish transcripts of every episode including this one; find them all at shedunnitshow.com/transcripts.
If you’d like to support the podcast’s continued existence and independence, become a paying member of the Shedunnit Book Club. There will be a much longer version of this interview available for members, so if you enjoyed this consider joining to hear more! To hear that and get all the other benefits, sign up at shedunnitbookclub.com/join
Many thanks to the new members we’ve welcomed in the last two weeks: Kate, Elizabeth, Linda, Jen, Phil, Joanna, Annilese, Alison, Katy, Rebekah, Christina, Maria and Jan. If you’d like to join us to read Miss Pym Disposes, there’s still time! shedunnitbookclub.com/join.
Shedunnit is edited by Euan MacAleece. Member support for the Shedunnit Book Club from Connor McLoughlin. The podcast’s advertising partner is Multitude.
Thanks for listening. I’ll be back soon with another episode.