If there’s one thing we know at Agora, it’s classic crime.
…Well, obviously that’s not the only thing we know. We could tell you exactly how many pages of a paperback we can get through in each stage of our commute, we’re not too bad at assembling IKEA flatpack furniture, and, of course, we’re well versed in the art of en masse office tea making. However, if they ever let entire publishing companies on Mastermind, classic crime would be one of our specialist subjects.
We publish some of the greatest figures in crime fiction, from the spy thrillers of Eric Ambler to the comic escapades of Michael Innes, and the dark mysteries of George Bellairs. As with all aspects of history, however, it would be impossible to discuss crime writing whilst ignoring the great women whose contributions helped lay the very foundations of the genre.
In this post, we’re going to spotlight seven women crime writers – some you’ll no doubt have heard of, some you might not yet know about – and see if we can introduce you to your next literary obsession.
1. Margery Allingham
Universally acknowledged as one of the four ‘Queens of Crime’, we can think of no better way to kick off this list than with Margery Allingham. A masterful storyteller and a prolific writer, Allingham and her much beloved sleuth Albert Campion helped define the Golden Age of Detective Fiction. In her time, Allingham sold more copies of her books than Agatha Christie, who herself said that Allingham “stands out like a shining light”, and that the elegance of her stories challenge the stereotypes of the genre.
We recommend: Tiger in the Smoke
2. E. C. R. Lorac
Born in 1894, Edith Caroline Rivett, who wrote under the pseudonyms of E.C.R. Lorac and Carol Carnac, was another key figure in the Golden Age of Detective Fiction. Rivett was a member of the Detection Club, which was an elite group of crime writers who would meet for dinners and advise each other on the technical aspects of their works. Rivett wrote prolifically, producing 71 mysteries under her pseudonyms, as is perhaps best known for her main series character, Inspector Robert Macdonald.
We recommend: Bats in the Belfry
3. Christianna Brand
Now, this is a name you may recognise, but might not be able to place. Christianna Brand was a children’s author whose Nurse Matilda series was adapted by Emma Thompson into the film Nanny McPhee. However, you may be unaware that the vast body of her oeuvre exists as crime fiction. Whilst most of her titles are currently out of print, two of her novels, Heads You Lose and Cat and Mouse, are available through Faber Finds and can give you a taste of what the rest of her work has to offer.
We recommend: Heads You Lose
4. Ngaio Marsh
Born in 1895, Dame Ngaio Marsh was a New Zealand crime writer and, alongside Margery Allingham, is widely considered as one of the four ‘Queens of Crime’. After several years of working in theatre, travel writing and interior design, Marsh wrote her first detective story in 1934, entitled A Man Lay Dead. Featuring Chief Detective Inspector Roderick Alleyn, A Man Lay Dead was the first of the 32 detective novels Marsh wrote, all of which are considered as key works in the Golden Age of Detective Fiction.
We recommend: Overture to Death
5. Josephine Tey
Josephine Tey was the pseudonym of Elizabeth MacKintosh, who was a Scottish writer of mystery novels and is perhaps one of the most elusive figures of the golden-age of British crime fiction. If there was a rule devised by the Detection Club that their members were expected to follow, there’s every chance that Tey flagrantly violated it. Few photos of Tey exist, and her legacy as a writer is shrouded in the same kind of mystery that one can expect to find in her novels.
We recommend: A Shilling for Candles (the basis of the Alfred Hitchcock film Young and Innocent)
6. Dorothy L. Sayers
The third ‘Queen of Crime’ in this list, Dorothy Sayers was yet another member of the Detection Club, serving as the president for eight years between 1949 and 1957, and remains one of the most esteemed writers of the Golden Age of Detective Fiction. Her first novel, Whose Body, was published in 1923, which introduced the world to Lord Peter Wimsey who would later go on to feature in a total of fourteen volumes of novels and short stories.
We recommend: Whose Body, because there’s no better place to start than at the beginning!
7. Agatha Christie
You knew she was coming, so we decided to leave the fourth ‘Queen of Crime’ until the very end. Dame Agatha Christie is listed by the Guinness World Records as the best-selling novelist of all time, with her novels having sold roughly 2 billion copies worldwide. We challenge you find someone who hasn’t heard of Agatha Christie. Her stories have been read the world over, and her iconic characters – Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot, specifically – have undergone almost as many transformations as Cher. Christie’s works have sprouted countless adaptations, but if you’re ever in doubt, we couldn’t recommend returning to the source material more.