Wednesday 18 January 2017

Back in Time

The Golden Age of Crime Writing is currently having a moment, as you may have noticed. Which has led to the reissue of a number of classics and lost treasures. And also means I have to exercise extreme restraint around the bookshop of the British Library, who are responsible for a number of the latter, if I don't want to end up spending a fortune.The covers alone are to die for.

Always looking for a good read, I was delighted to find a row of new issues of Josephine Tey's crime novels in my local library, and picked up The Man in The Queue which I first read years ago. I enjoyed it just as much, but there was one thing I noticed, which I think I have mentioned before in a post.

The classic novels often have an elastic sense of time.

In this one, the hero, Inspector Grant, spends a day sleuthing. He travels to Nottingham and is on the train at 10 am, (mentioned in the text) traces some witnesses, interrogates them, finds and has lunch with a local solicitor, does some more investigation, has coffee at the station while killing time before his train, making conversation with a waitress who is also serving other customers, arrives in London for what is described as a leisurely early dinner and is back on the street, in daylight (in March)  while late afternoon crowds and early evening revellers are mingling on the pavement, in time to spot a suspect in the crowd and give chase. All this bracketed by the two train journeys, which must have been by steam in 1929, and which take nearly two hours on today's trains. Somehow, I have my doubts about all that.

It's probably a writer's thing to notice stuff like that and the calculations amused me, and in no way detracted from my enjoyment of the book. In fact, I have a sneaky idea that this occasionally elastic timescale may be part of the charm of the Golden Age - contributing to the sense of things moving at a slower and perhaps more dignified pace.

I was also feeling slightly jealous, as I was wrestling with timings in a novella set in late December and realising that, no -  that scene cannot take place like that at that point. Because in December at that time, it will be dark.

If you haven't encountered the British Library Crime Classics and their glorious covers (I'm particularly fond of the ones featuring trains) take a look HERE  


  1. That's funny. I read a couple of classic crime novels over the Christmas period and couldn't help thinking what a lot happened in one day... especially compared to how much I normally achieve!

    1. So you noticed it too! Of course having servants and eating out would help, but even so ...