Shedunnit Recommends Transcript


Caroline: Welcome to Shedunnit. I’m Caroline Crampton.

Over the years that I’ve been making this podcast, I get asked one question more than any other. It’s this: what should I read next? Now, I love answering it, especially because getting to introduce people who love golden age murder mysteries to new authors from that time they’ve never tried before is one of my favourite things, ever. But I’m limited in what I can recommend by what I’ve had time to read. And recently, it occurred to me that I have all these experts on the show all the time and they often make recommendations in the course of our conversations, but since the show has been running for over a hundred episodes now, they’re not the easiest to find. Hearing someone really knowledgeable talk about what they think you should read and why it means so much to them is really one of the best possible ways to discover new books. Wouldn’t it be great if all of those suggestions were all in one handy place for you to listen to and stock up on great mysteries for the next few months? Well, here you go.


We’re going to start with the work of an author who is controversial among some fans of golden age detective fiction. Gladys Mitchell is a bit like Marmite, I think — you either love her or hate her. But for Lee Randall, my guest from The Great Gladys episode back in 2020, it’s definitely the former. And there’s really only one place you can start with Mitchell’s work, Lee says.

Lee Randall: She is so funny. She just cracks me up. She’s got a very caustic wit and I really, really appreciate her wit. And I appreciate Mrs. Bradley’s rather sarcastic view of the world and the fact that nothing surprises her. And I also I happen to I’m a big fan of the Mitfords. And there’s a kind of writing from early in the 20th century that I know is not to everyone’s taste and very much to mine. It’s almost it’s almost very brittle. For example, in the beginning of Speedy Death, the characters burst into the scene and they start talking nine to the dozen in that particularly arch now archaic style. And I am a sucker for that stuff. I love that.

Caroline: She came across Gladys Mitchell completely by chance when a package of reprinted novels landed on her desk at her newspaper job.

Lee: So I took the books home and they were sort of random sampling. I can’t even remember what the first three I read were. And I fell instantly in love with the language and with Mrs. Bradley, who I think is the most marvellous creation. And with Mitchell herself, I became intrigued. And I’m one of those annoying people who when I am intrigued by something I start swatting up on it. So I was combing the internet, trying to find out about Gladys Mitchell and trying to find out more about the series of books. And that led me down the Detection Club wormhole and all sorts of things started bubbling up

Caroline: I don’t want to take the edge off the shock you get from reading a Mrs Bradley book for the first time, because you should absolutely try one for yourself. But here’s a small taster of what you could expect from Speedy Death, for instance:

Lee: That book has everything it took. It’s a locked room, cosy crime, country house mystery with transvestitism and nymphomania and psychological shadows and light and then a rousing courtroom scene at the end. It’s got every single thing you could possibly have in the book.

Caroline: Lee mentioned a locked room murder mystery there, but if you want formal innovation and experimentation in your interwar whodunnits, you could do worse than to look to the work of Anthony Berkeley. Here’s Martin Edwards, current president of the Detection Club that Berkeley helped to find, recommending two of his books as well as a bonus modern mystery inspired by him, in an episode titled The Psychology of Anthony Berkeley from October 2020.

Martin: He really was very influential. The classic detective story in many ways is The Poisoned Chocolates Case with the multiple solutions. The idea of the multiple solutions was used a lot by John Dickson Carr, Christianna Brand and other writers, but Berkeley did it very brilliantly in that book. And that was a book that was hugely admired at the time. And it inspired many other writers. But he also wrote the book, which I as far as I know, I stand to be corrected, was the first murder mystery novel where the identity of the corpse is deliberately withheld from the reader, although it’s known to the detectives. So it’s an additional puzzle. The who-was-done-in. That’s a book called Murder in the Basement. And you see that idea used successfully even in very recent times, Lucy Foley, The Hunting Party. There’s an element that story. It’s not just a whodunit, but there’s a mystery about who the victim was. So that was an innovation which he’s not had much credit for. But I think it’s also quite significant.

Caroline: Anthony Berkeley, I find, is a writer who comes up a lot when you are talking to other writers of crime fiction — today he doesn’t quite enjoyed the continuing fame of someone like Agatha Christie, but he is hugely admired by other practitioners of the craft. Another author that is pretty universally adored by the creators of detective fiction now and a hundred years ago is, of course, Arthur Conan Doyle. But if you’re like me, you have probably been so distracted by all the gorgeous new 1920s reprints that are coming out these days, and haven’t actually read a Sherlock Holmes story in years. Allow Maureen Johnson, my guest for the Young Sleuths episode in 2021, explaining how Conan Doyle sparked her own love of mysteries to convince you that it’s time to return to 221b Baker Street.

Maureen: The first book full book I ever remember reading was The Hound of the Baskervilles. I had a children’s edition of it, and I was so entranced by the first image of the reflection in the teapot that that was sort of it for life. I was taken from that moment and I got my hands on every mystery I could possibly get my hands on.

And I always meant to write a mystery — I’ve written YA for years and years — and I didn’t do it because I think I thought it was too good for me, or it was what I enjoyed the most. And so I didn’t do it. It’s very hard, I think sometimes maybe we avoid the thing that’s too close to the thing that we love.

Caroline: Speaking of teapots and tea, detective fiction can be a wonderful thing to read if you’re feeling a bit peckish, as we heard from Kate Young, all the way back on the eighth ever episode of Shedunnit, Dining with Death.

Kate: A Pocket Full of Rye is a really good example of that. There’s these extraordinary breakfast that is described and then a really lovely afternoon tea both of which are how the two characters who enjoy those meals that the breakfast meal and then the afternoon tea. That’s how they’re murdered. There’s poison slipped into tea and poison put it into a pot — taxine from the yew berries in the trees outside that is put into the pot of marmalade. So it is a really grim and eerie look at food which is supposed to be this warming wholesome comforting thing I think particularly like lovely breakfasts at home and and an afternoon tea service in your library are supposed to be the sort of things that you could just eat and enjoy that happen every day and suddenly are the result of somebody getting murdered. It is a really interesting thing and the descriptions of those meals because they keep returning to them and considering how that poison could possibly have been administered it is really interesting to keep returning to that table and how it was set.

Caroline: Now, I know I said this was all about books, but while we’re on the subject of Agatha Christie, there was a film suggestion from the archive we came across that I just had to include. This is from queer studies scholar Dr Benedict Morrison:

Benedict: I know that this is controversial, but for me, Albert Finney is the Poirot. I once heard his performance described as Kabuki-like, and I think that’s absolutely right. His performance is a bizarre kind of mash up of extreme gestures, of strange vocal inflections, of a very dodgy accent, but all of these things actually with enormous charisma and star quality as Albert Finney, of course brings, all of them are constantly reminding us that Poirot is not just a straightforward character, but rather Poirot is play. Poirot is instability. Poirot is enigma. Poirot is uncertainty. The moment when Finney pulls down his case and the kimono nightgown falls into his arms and he laughs and the camera pulls back and up and we’re confronted with a moment of this near aerial shot of Poirot just laughing.

It is one of the moments for which cinema was invented. I adore it. And it prepares us for the doubleness that Poirot eventually has to embrace when he presents two possible solutions. And then he effectively asks stage manager Bianchi, as he’s called in the film, to decide which of those two solutions he should now go and perform in his report.

Poirot is an actor, too, in Murder On The Orient Express. And for me, all of that play with identity, all of that play with star status, all of that play with the instability, the uncertainty and the non-essential nature of character, those things are all resolutely, wonderfully queer.

After the break: Agatha, Margery and the two Dorothys.

Ad music

Caroline: If you want to think more deeply about your Agatha Christie reading, there’s an obvious place to go — the All About Agatha podcast. And in December 2020, I was lucky enough to welcome hosts Catherine Brubeck and Kemper Donovan on the show. Catherine, as fans of the show will know, very sadly passed away in late 2021, so it’s all the more significant, I think, that we can still hear what she had to say. Among many other things on that episode, titled The Christie Completists, we talked about the books that had consistently performed the best in their very comprehensive and complicated ranking system of her work.

Kemper: It’s a bit rudimentary, I’m always, for some reason, a little embarrassed when we actually have to talk about our, you know, our ranking categories, because I think they’re pretty basic. But, you know, we essentially break down each of the novels into some pretty standard, you know, sort of aspects of writing and reading a book. So there are there are five of them. And the first two have to do with plot. Plot is obviously key to mysteries and then to Christie. And our first is just plot mechanics. So it’s kind of, you know, the workings of the plot. How elaborate is it? Does she pull it off? Is everything sort of are the loose ends tied up or is it all is it all kind of working the way that it should? You know, often Christie’s plots are just absolutely brilliant. Sometimes they’re a little bit less. So she wrote 66 novels. So there’s going to be some variation there. The next category is, is plot credibility, which is where we tend to be able to do our nit picking that I think mystery readers love to do in which we talk about whether or not this mystery plot would actually happen in real life. And, you know, I we do realise that verisimilitude is not necessarily what a mystery writer and especially a mystery writer like Christie is going for. Sometimes half the fun is that this never would have actually happened in real life. And, you know, the mechanisms of the plot.

Catherine: Are you saying are you saying no. That not a bunch of random strangers would travel to an offshore island via a random strangers request? Is that not typical with normal life? Because I’ve been doing things I’ve been doing things wrong, clearly, if that’s the case.

Kemper: Well, funnily enough, I believe I don’t have the grid in front of me, but I believe that on plot credibility And Then There Were None actually did quite well because this isn’t really spoiling anything but the the murderer in that novel is a psychopath and it’s this outlandish psychopathic scheme. And, yes, it’s quite believable that the murderer would have come up with this plot and actually even been able to enact it and and kind of orchestrate matters to get everyone on to that island. So, yeah, I mean, we were often kind of, I think, approaching that category with a little bit of a wink. But it is kind of fun to just suss out whether or how the plot would have would have actually happened within real life.

Then we have two character categories. The first is series long characters. So that’s often our detective character, especially if it’s a Poirot or a Marple or a Tommy and Tuppence or a Superintendent Battle or a Colonel Race. They’re actually more serious long characters in Christie than just Poirot and Marple. And then our second character category just has to do with characters within that specific book. And we’re just in those categories talking about the strength of characterisation. And again, I think Christie gets a bad rap for her character work. And quite often I think she is superb in how she creates characters and not only just creating characters on the page, but using character as a means of creating obfuscation and then ultimately solving a mystery. And I think in her very best mysteries, that’s something that I think I’ve been able to clarify as a result of this project we’re doing. That is something that I think is often happening in the very best of her mysteries. Character is integral to the solving of the mystery. It’s certainly the case in Five Little Pigs, for example, Evil Under the Sun is another one I often use as an example.

Catherine: I think also we also just like randomly like we love Sad Cypress. And that’s one I think that she’s doing something truly original with with character, work and structure and does not get enough credit, right?

Kemper: Absolutely.

Caroline: So Five Little Pigs, Sad Cypress, Evil Under the Sun. What are the novels of hers have come highly in the system so far?

Kemper: Well, we I mean, our top 10 is consists of and then there areFive Little Pigs, And Then There Were None, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, The Hollow, Death on the Nile is is right up there. Orient Express, obviously, Murder on the Orient Express, The Murder at the Vicarage, as well as actually another another favourite, I think, of both of ours.

Caroline: And now from the best of Agatha Christie, to a writer sometimes called “the Agatha Christie of Japan… Seishi Yokomizo. This recommendation comes from Pushkin Press editor Daniel Seton — there have now been quite a few more Yokomizo titles published by them since we recorded this in March 2021.

Caroline: Pushkin have now published two Yokomizo books in English, The Honjin Murders translated by Louise Heal Kawai and The Inugami Curse translated by Yumiko Yamakazi, with plans for more in the future. And the response seems to bear out Daniel’s initial hunch that non Japanese readers would love the honkaku style.

Daniel: Well, the response to all Seishi Yokomizo’s books has been really amazing so far and especially The Honjin Murders. It got rave reviews and has been our best selling title since we published it at the end of 2019. And that’s across our whole list, not even just the crime list. I wasn’t really surprised at all because I’m a huge mystery fan myself and I absolutely love it. It’s really fiendish, expertly, plotted mystery. It’s packed full of all the elements that thrill fans of golden age classics.

Caroline: Pushkin have also expanded their reach into Japanese fiction beyond the 1940s and 1950s, and published in English work by contemporary writers like Soji Shimada and Yukito Ayatsuji. This is the fascinating thing about the honkaku style, and where it really differs from what happened in Britain and America. Apart from a short period in the 1970s and 1980s when Japanese readers seemed more interested in police procedurals and thrillers, the classic honkaku puzzle mystery has never really fallen out of favour.

Caroline: Now I’m pretty sure that quite a few of you will have already read this next book, as it seems to be quite a popular gateway mystery for Shedunnit listeners, shall we say. But I just loved this recommendation from 94-year-old playwright Renee from the Lifelong Fan episode so much that I had to include it.

Caroline: Perhaps the most significant literary encounter that Renée had around this time was with the 1935 novel Gaudy Night.

Renée: Dorothy Sayers has always been my favourite because I think she can write as well, and she sort of talks about things that caught my attention. She talks about what a marriage should be, that a woman should be allowed to work in all of this. You know, follow her own career. Those kinds of things, which I really as a young girl, I was about 11 when I read first Gaudy Night. And that really interested me for some reason, which I don’t understand, because I was quite young, but I guess I was reading Vera Brittain as well. And Rebecca West.

Caroline: Now, long time listeners to this podcast will know how much I love this book too. It’s a mystery novel — although not a murder mystery, because it’s more of poison pen plot — but it’s also a treatise about love and relationships and work and how women can exist between them all. When I was talking to Renée, we had so much in common when we spoke about how this book had shaped us, even though she is 91 and read the book quite soon after it came out, and I’m 32 and read it decades after Sayers had died. But we’re both equally captivated by it, and return to it often.

Renée: I’m so pleased that it’s just so nice to know because I don’t know anyone else who really does that. And there’s something about you fall into that book that because it was the first one I read, I fell into it. And I don’t think I’ve ever quite come out.

Gaudy Night, and the other detective novels of this time that Renée devoured at the library, offered her a glimpse of a completely alien world. Here she was, a girl not yet in her teens who was working full time in a mill in New Zealand to help support her family, and on the pages of these whodunnits were lives and places that were completely unrecognisable to her.

Renée: I was like a little Gulliver looking in these strange new worlds. I mean, there were places that had a butler and maids and all those sorts of things which I had never entered my as sort of little world. And then Sayers’s Gaudy Night was the first novel I read of hers and she was at Oxford and which was fascinating for me, but I didn’t know. I didn’t know what a proctor was. For example, I found some of the terms quite difficult. But I was young. And so I just read it mainly for the pleasure and the surprise of hearing people, adult people actually talk about poetry or literature. And none of which I knew. But it was just another idea that that’s that could be a part of conversation was a. A really nice thing. I liked it.

Caroline: One of the most difficult golden age authors to recommend, I think, is Margery Allingham. Even though her detective stays consistent throughout her work, the style of her books changes so much over the decades. Here’s her biographer Julia Jones on finding your way through this maze.

Julia: If you didn’t know her, you would almost think they were written by different people. But it isn’t. It’s because that, you know, one’s a different person when you are in your twenties than you are when you are in your fifties. And with Marge, you can see her novels and that’s why she’s very clever with Campion. You know, they go along together.

Caroline: That said, in The Crime at Black Dudley, we don’t really see Albert Campion fully formed or even clearly at all. He is a peripheral figure, a shadowy yet silly character at a country house party, who has often been said to mostly function as a parody of the aristocratic sleuths popular at the time, like Lord Peter Wimsey. Readers who try to get into Allingham by starting with the first Campion novel often find themselves confused or disappointed, I think, since her sleuth fails to take centre stage. It isn’t until Allingham’s next detective novel, 1930’s Mystery Mile, that we get more of a sense of Campion as a protagonist in the way we might expect from a crime novel of this period.

Julia: I mean, the next one, Mystery Mile, you know, I would, that’s one I would quite often recommend to people if they like something quite sort of, you know, quite period, quite flippant, you know, quite fast moving. That’s a good one. And if you like, that’s the first proper Campion, because Campion in The Crime at Black Dudley is just somebody else who happens to be in the house party. And he, for some reason, he just gets picked up and promoted to Mystery Mile.

Caroline: And to finish with, we have a recommendation from the beginning of 2023, when guest Moira Redmond was so sure about a particular Dorothy Bowers title, she was willing to offer personal refunds to anyone who did not like this book.

Caroline: To cap off this productive period of four crime novels published in four years, in 1941 Dorothy Bowers published Fear For Miss Betony, which Moira and I, and pretty much everyone else who has read all of Bowers’s books, agree is her masterpiece.

Moira: It has nearly all my favourite crime story tropes in it. It’s got the lot, it’s got, you know, a school, a hugely female population. It’s very funny. But at the same time, there’s this link with the town and there’s a male fortune teller who just appears really only in one scene. It’s an extraordinarily involving and entrancing scene. It’s incredible. Most of the rest of the time, it’s very much school setting, but again, sharp and funny. Miss Betony is a great heroine. She’s an older single lady and she ends up at the school. She’s the person whose father was in trade. And I think it’s a great book.

Caroline: Moira feels pretty confident about the quality of Fear For Miss Betony.

Moira: If you read that book and you didn’t like it, I’ll give you your money back. It’s such a good book and so unusual. It has features from similar to many other books at the time, but it is on its own, Fear For Miss Betony.

Caroline: And there we have it — some of the books most fervently recommended by Shedunnit’s guests over the years. I hope you found something new to try in there, or perhaps you were reminded of an old favourite that it’s time to revisit. Enjoy your reading in the meantime, and I’ll be back with a brand new episode very soon.


This episode of Shedunnit was hosted by me, Caroline Crampton. You can find a full list of books mentioned at I publish transcripts of every episode including this one; find them all at

If you enjoyed this episode and you’d like to hear more from me beyond the fortnightly episodes on this feed, join the Shedunnit Book Club, where I make extra bonus episodes every month for supporters. For instance, I spoke to lots of the guests for much longer than you ever heard on the main podcast feed, and book club members get to hear those full interviews. Sign up now at

Shedunnit is edited by Euan McAleece. Production assistance from Leandra Griffith. Member support for the Shedunnit Book Club from Connor McLoughlin.

Thanks for listening.

Sorry, comments are closed for this post.