To celebrate the release of the magnificent Mystery & Mayhem, I have a guest post from 4 members of The Crime Club – Elen Caldecott, Helen Moss, Harriet Whitehorn and Katherine Woodfine - telling me all about their favourite childhood mystery reads. Enjoy!
I was a huge fan of the Five Find Outers by Enid Blyton. Hardly anyone knows about them - they get shoved aside by the more flash Famous Five - but they are worth checking out. As far as I remember the Famous Five often just haplessly stumbled into the baddies in a cave, or a bay. The Find Outers actually did the leg-work and graft to run a proper investigation. And one of them did amazing disguises using fake noses and eyebrows. Sleuthing AND dressing-up? I was in.
My two greatest childhood inspirations were The Famous Five and Scooby Doo. I devoured every single Enid Blyton mystery series and sat with my nose glued to the TV whenever the Mystery Machine pulled into view. The fact that both are still loved by children just as much today suggests that there’s just something primordially compelling about a gang of kids and a dog putting the world to rights.
By eleven or twelve I’d graduated to Agatha Christie. My grandma had shelves and shelves of them. The glamorous covers and dog-eared yellowing pages were so enticing; comforting and dangerous in equal measure. I loved the casts of characters, all so briskly drawn, the puzzles and plots, the clues, the sheer cleverness of it all.
Because I binge-read the books so long ago, the individual stories have now faded in my mind, but I remember particularly enjoying The ABC Murders. I remember being sceptical of the idea that a killer would go to all the trouble of devising an intricate pattern to his crimes, but then deliberately tell the police about it. It all seemed too staged, too arbitrary (a problem I still have with many plots involving serial killers, who have elaborate rituals, or only kill between 3 and 4 on the third Tuesday of the month because, well, that’s just the thing they do). I remember being cross with Agatha Christie as the murders unfolded; all that stuff with railway timetables and silly names; and then – yes! - the sheer delight when it turned out that that was the whole, entire point; all the murders but one really were staged; they were just a disguise for the one ‘real’ crime. There was no serial killer with an alphabet fixation, just some good old-fashioned greed.
That skilful manipulation of the reader’s beliefs and expectations was truly inspirational; I suppose it’s an odd thing to admit to, but getting the chance to be blatantly manipulative (without making enemies and alienating people!) is one of my favourite things about being a mystery writer!
When I was nine or ten, I loved a series of American mystery novels entitled Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators, that I inherited from my older brother. Alfred Hitchock’s involvement was presumably an early example of celebrity endorsement, and didn’t interest me in the slightest, but the characters did; the chief investigator was a fiendishly clever, ‘sturdy’ boy, marvellously named Jupiter Jones, who, being ‘sturdy’ and studious myself, I strongly identified with. His sidekicks were Pete and Bob and the mysteries were all of a slightly creepy, supernatural nature, similar to Scooby Doo. The lucky boys had an old mobile home for their office and best of all, they had business cards.
It's so hard to pick a favourite mystery, but one that I especially loved was The Mystery at Witchend by Malcolm Saville. Malcolm Saville's books aren't that well known today, but he was a very popular writer in the 1940s and 1950s. I first came across him by reading my mum's old childhood copies of some of his books, and then spent a lot of time searching down more in libraries and second-hand bookshops.
Saville's Lone Pine series, of which The Mystery at Witchend is the first, are similar to Enid Blyton in that they follow an intrepid group of young people who solve mysteries together. They have the same nostalgic, old-fashioned feel, but with slightly older characters, and even more adventure and excitement. I especially liked that the books were always set in real-life locations that you could actually visit - The Mystery at Witchend is set in the Shropshire countryside - and that each book came complete with a map. I was also a particular fan of the Lone Piners' canine companion Macbeth - a dauntless Scottie dog, with a special talent for identifying villains!
Well, I’ve now got a few more books on my wishlist! Thanks guys!
Don’t forget to check out the rest of the stops on the tour!