What was your first detective novel?

Eurocrime (or Aerodrome, as Typepad spellcheck would have it) reports news of a new series of books by Nicola Upton, set in London theatreland of the 1930s.  I’m quite intrigued, because the first book,  An Expert in Murder, will feature  Josephine Tey as an amateur detective.

Tey, of course, was a real-life writer of detective novels, including The Franchise Affair and Brat Farrar (these, both concerning the theme of imposters, and others by the same author, are still in print). How Nicola Upton’s book(s) will reconcile Tey the character with Tey the real person is an interesting prospect.

Karen’s post, however, made me realise that The Daughter of Time is, I think, the first detective novel I read. Before that, I’d read Sherlock Holmes, but these were short stories. REmembering the book from the distance of many years, The Daughter of Time features a bored detective recovering in hospital. Someone brings him some newspapers or magazines, and while reading them something strikes him as illogical about Richard III having murdered the Princes in the Tower. The rest of the book features the bedridden investigation into the "case". I was given the book because at that time I was fascinated by the Richard III story.  I don’t recall if that is where my long interest in crime fiction began, but it must have helped.

What was the first detective/crime fiction novel you read?

13 thoughts on “What was your first detective novel?

  1. As a child, probably Trixie Belden (don’t laugh!), followed by Nancy Drew. As an adult, I really don’t remember. I got stuck in the horror genre before I realised there was more to life than Stephen King!

  2. Oh, I was obsessed with Josephine Tey when I was little! And indeed “The Daughter of Time” must have been one of the very first detective novels I ever read (not long after came Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh, Dorothy L. Sayers of course, etc. etc.–but Tey remained a particular favorite). I had that poster from the National Portrait Gallery of Richard III up on my bedroom wall, I think the Richard III fascination in my case probably also preceded the Tey–funny how these (misunderstood) villains hold sway over our imaginations! I just heard a talk yesterday on Shakespeare’s Richard III, was thinking how much I liked the Tey novel… (which I have probably read about 20 times BTW)
    Maxine, did you ever read Edmund Crispin? HE was another one I absolutely loved–I was thinking of him also this week because we read a bit of Pope at the eighteenth-century reading group meeting on Thursday, including the part of “The Rape of the Lock” that includes that beautiful line about “the moving toyshop of the heart” that Crispin borrowed for one of those books (the one based on Lear limericks…)
    Holmes stories were also an obsession in childhood of course!
    Thank you for prompting pleasant reminiscences…

  3. My first was probably either a Famous Five or Adventure book by Enid Blyton – if you can call them real detective novels – but the first one I remember was The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie. It stuck in my memory because I did not see what was coming and was quite shocked by the ending.

  4. Oh, wow, good question. Well, I know for sure I owned a couple of Hardy Boys books as a child, so that’s my best guess. Which on it would have been I have no idea, but I know I read one or two of them.
    My first Sherlock Holmes novel was last year. I read ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’ and thought “why haven’t I read this before?!” It was funny, scary and beautifully written. I need to read much more AC Doyle.

  5. Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys, definitely, though even as a child I recognized they were boilerplate books. Then, happily, discovered Edgar Allan Poe — writer I *adored* –who wrote those A. Dupin mysteries set in Paris (“Murder in the Rue Morgue,” etc.). I still think he does atmosphere better than almost any writer. Agatha Christie — maybe one or two, but I didn’t like them. Again, seemed boilerplate (I don’t like to see the seams, the genre requirements, while I’m trying to sink into the mystery). Dorothy Sayers: Yes! Like her, I fell in love with Peter Wimsey and I even read the one finished by someone else years after her death: “Thrones and Dominations.” It’s actually half-decent: She and Peter are married and he’s doing intelligence stuff for England during WW II. Must have come out in 2001, because I actually bought it in England, in a bookstore in Devon when we were on vacation there. (maxine: have you read it?)
    Lastly, part of my dissertation was on Wilkie Collins. A fabulous novel (though doubtless dumbed down by A.Lloyd Webber for the West End musical) is “The Woman in White.” Better by far than “The Moonstone” or “Armadale,” and I do recommend it to all mystery lovers.

  6. My first detective novel was Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians or as it is now known, Then there were None. When I read this book it was known by its now non-politically correct title. But no matter what it is, or was, called I well remember the impact it had on me. I was in bed early one Saturday morning on my own, as mother and sister were working that day, and I decided to lie in and read. I did not get out of bed until 11 am as I was totally riveted by this story and the ending left me gasping. I then embarked on my Agatha spree and over the next few years read the lot, and I agree with bibliophile, over the Murder of Roger Ackroyd. Masterley and no way could you guess the ending.

  7. Thank you all for your fascinating comments. Funny, I never heard of Nancy Drew or the Hardy Boys until I was about 18 and one of my younger sisters was reading them— by then they did not appeal.
    Yes, Jenny, I was a world expert on Richard III, I was completely convinced he could not have murdered the princes. I read Paul Murray Kendall, then I think the only history book making that case, and many other books on the topic. Then someone else wrote a historical novel about RIII, I can’t remember the name of the author except that she was female and I think it was a triple name. The cover of the book was silver with blue line drawings. But I was disappointed in it, I think it must have been more like romanticised fiction than realistic. After that, my historical interests changed to the French Revolution and Napoleon, I think I read every history book in the library about those topics, particularly N’s family and all their crazy antics.
    Interesting, Bluestalking reader, that you should have read one of the few full-length Sherlock Holmes novels (The Sign of Four is the other one, I don’t think there are others but I could be wrong.) Almost all the output is short story. My childhood favourite was one about a code, the mystery of the dancing men.
    Susan, yes, I was a great fan of Poe and of Wilkie Collins, indeed I still read Collins. I loved many of his books, reading them as Dover reprinted them all one by one, I suppose it would be 20 years ago now.
    I adored all of Dorothy Sayers (her unpleasant anti-semitism passed me by at the time, in childhood, I’d be less forgiving of that now). My sister Avis and I were very keen on Peter Wimsey and were not happy when he was played on TV by Ian Carmichael, a rather different “upper class toff” type to the classy Lord of the books. I have not read Thrones and Dominiations, I don’t like books “finished off” by subsequent authors, although I know Jill Paton Walsh is something of a Sayers scholar, I would prefer to leave Peter and Harriet at the end of Busman’s Honeymoon and leave it at that in my mind. From what you say about it, it sounds a little like John Buchan, another childhood favourite (I preferred Mr Standfast and others to 39 Steps).
    Ah, happy memories… and just to add to Jenny’s comment about the portrait, I went out to vist a friend today and we were reminiscing about Daughter of Time. Mary reminded me that what sparked the detective’s interest was a postcard of that portrait — he did not think it looked like the picture of a murderer. I don’t know if you know this story, but there is more than one copy of that picture in existence, and Henry VII had one version altered after he defeated Richard, to make the eyes look evil. You can see reproductions of both versions; the difference is quite striking. Caveat emptor.

  8. I loved that Josephine Tey book about Richard III!
    But my first detective/crime fiction books must have been the Bulldog Drummond books by Herman Cyril McNeile, who had taken the pen name Sapper. Hugh Drummond who was the quintessential English hero fought against wicked fiendish foreigners in a world where an English gentleman was a match for any two villains of a lesser breed. I later realised that the books were terribly non-pc and even worse, but Bulldog Drummond was just so inspiring. I believe he inspired Ian Fleming in his creation of the character James Bond. My excuse for liking this jingoistic nonsense was that I was very young, it was 1950’s and that Captain Hugh Drummond’s wife was called Phyllis. Both my father’s brothers were married to a Phyllis, and I identified Bulldog Drummond, Algy and company with my uncles, who were exciting figures to me with their tales of African and Italian adventures in the Second World War.

  9. The Peter Wimsey I saw on “Mystery” — they adapted “Gaudy Night” and two other books — was the great stage actor Edward Petherbridge (I’d seen him not long before that on B’way in “Nicholas Nickleby” — playing Newman Nogs, a *completely* different character!).
    Whatever happened to Edward Petherbridge? Dost thou knowest, Maxine? Other Britons?

  10. I read a lot of Hardy Boys books as a child, but never really considered them as detective books. My mother gave me some Hercule Poirot books around age 12 or so, which were quite satisfying.

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