Try a Taste of: British Library Crime Classics

Published Thursday, September 16, 2021

Like many of our library patrons, I am a mystery & crime fiction lover. Most mystery readers are always searching for the next great series they can look forward to. EPL has a wide selection of all popular authors, but today I wanted to share some works from writers who are lesser known: the “British Library Crime Classics,” published by Poisoned Pen Press. For fans of Agatha Christie, PD James, Dorothy Sayers, and other “Golden Age” British & American (and other settings) mystery writers, these books are sure to entertain.

In 2015, Poisoned Penn Press began releasing trade paperbacks of much celebrated crime classics featuring historical mysteries rediscovered by the British Library. These pleasing editions feature cover art chosen by the British Library – “smart, old-fashioned designs befitting these golden age crime tales” – as well as introductions by well-known experts in the genre. These books, written by the original masters of crime fiction, made locked-room mysteries and country house murders popular. Most were published in the late 1920s through the early 1950s, and laid the groundwork for many of today’s crime writers. Here’s a sampling. -Cary

Plot summaries from publisher.

Murder Underground
by Mavis Doriel Hay

When Miss Pongleton is found murdered on the stairs of Belsize Park station, her fellow-boarders in the Frampton Hotel are not overwhelmed with grief at the death of a tiresome old woman. But they all have their theories about the identity of the murderer, and help to unravel the mystery of who killed the wealthy "Pongle." Several of her fellow residents – even Tuppy the terrier – have a part to play in the events that lead to a dramatic arrest.

This classic mystery novel is set in and around the Northern Line of the London Underground. It is now republished for the first time since the 1930s, with an introduction by the award-winning crime writer Stephen Booth.

Available Digitally:
Cloud Library (ebook)
Hoopla (ebook)

Request in Catalog
Mystery in White: A Christmas Crime Story
by J. Jefferson Farjeon

On Christmas Eve, heavy snowfall brings a train to a halt near the village of Hemmersby. Several passengers take shelter in a deserted country house, where the fire has been lit and the table laid for tea – but no one is at home.

Trapped together for Christmas, the passengers are seeking to unravel the secrets of the empty house when a murderer strikes in their midst.

This classic Christmas mystery is now republished for the first time since the 1930s, with an introduction by the award-winning crime writer Martin Edwards.

Available Digitally:
Hoopla (ebook)

Request in Catalog
The Cornish Coast Murder
by John Bude

'Never, even in his most optimistic moments, had he visualised a scene of this nature – himself in one armchair, a police officer in another, and between them a mystery.'

The Reverend Dodd, vicar of the quiet Cornish village of Boscawen, spends his evenings reading detective stories by the fireside – but heaven forbid that the shadow of any real crime should ever fall across his seaside parish. The vicar's peace is shattered one stormy night when Julius Tregarthan, a secretive and ill-tempered magistrate, is found at his house in Boscawen with a bullet through his head.

The local police inspector is baffled by the complete absence of clues. Luckily for Inspector Bigswell, the Reverend Dodd is on hand, and ready to put his keen understanding of the criminal mind to the test.

This classic mystery novel of the golden age of British crime fiction is set against the vividly described backdrop of a fishing village on Cornwall's Atlantic coast. It is now republished for the first time since the 1930s with an introduction by award-winning crime writer Martin Edwards.

Available Digitally:
Hoopla (ebook)

Request in Catalog
Weekend at Thrackley
by Alan Melville

'I'm taking a revolver to Trackley. You never know with blokes like Carson. I hate these harmless, potty people – they're always up to something.'

Jim Henderson is one of six guests summoned by the mysterious Edwin Carson, a collector of precious stones, to a weekend party at his country house, Thrackley. The house is gloomy and forbidding but the party is warm and hospitable – except for the presence of Jacobson, the sinister butler. The other guests are wealthy people draped in jewels; Jim cannot imagine why he belongs in such company.

After a weekend of adventure – with attempted robbery and a vanishing guest – secrets come to light and Jim unravels a mystery from his past.

This classic mystery novel is now republished for the first time since the 1930s, with an introduction by the award-winning crime writer Martin Edwards.

Available Digitally:
Hoopla (ebook)

Request in Catalog
Death in a Fancy Dress
by Anthony Gilbert

The British Secret Service, working to uncover a large-scale blackmail ring and catch its mysterious mastermind 'The Spider', find themselves at the country residence Feltham Abbey where a fancy-dress ball is in full swing.

In the tumult of revelry, Sir Ralph Feltham is found dead. Not the atmosphere bewildered guest Tony was expecting, he sets out to make sense of the night's activities and the motives of the other guests. Among them is Hilary, an independently minded socialite still in her costume of vivid silk pyjamas and accompanying teddy bear.

This classic country house mystery contrasts the splendours and frivolities of the English upper classes with the sombre over-hang of the First World War and the irresistible complications of deadly familial relationships. It is now republished for the first time since the 1930s with an introduction by award-winning crime writer Martin Edwards and featuring the short stories 'Horseshoes for Luck' and 'The Cockroach and the Tortoise'.

Available Digitally:
Hoopla (ebook)

Request in Catalog
Antidote to Venom
by Freeman Wills Crofts

George Surridge, director of the Birmington Zoo, is a man with many worries: his marriage is collapsing; his finances are insecure; and an outbreak of disease threatens the animals in his care.

As Surridge's debts mount and the pressure on him increases, he begins to dream of miracle solutions. But is he cunning enough to turn his dreams into reality – and could he commit the most devious murder in pursuit of his goals?

This ingenious crime novel, with its unusual 'inverted' structure and sympathetic portrait of a man on the edge, is one of the greatest works by this highly respected author. The elaborate means of murder devised by Crofts's characters is perhaps unsurpassed in English crime fiction for its ostentatious intricacy.

This new edition is the first in several decades and includes an introduction by the award-winning novelist and crime fiction expert Martin Edwards.

Available Digitally:
Hoopla (ebook)

Request in Catalog
Blood on the Tracks: Railway Mysteries
edited by Martin Edwards

'Never had I been given a tougher problem to solve, and never had I been so utterly at my wits’ end for a solution.'

A signalman is found dead by a railway tunnel. A man identifies his wife as a victim of murder on the underground. Two passengers mysteriously disappear between stations, leaving behind a dead body.

Trains have been a favourite setting of many crime writers, providing the mobile equivalent of the “locked-room” scenario. Their enclosed carriages with a limited number of suspects lend themselves to seemingly impossible crimes. In an era of cancellations and delays, alibis reliant upon a timely train service no longer ring true, yet the railway detective has enjoyed a resurgence of popularity in the twenty-first century.

Both train buffs and crime fans will delight in this selection of fifteen railway-themed mysteries, featuring some of the most popular authors of their day alongside less familiar names. This is a collection to beguile even the most wearisome commuter.

Available Digitally:
Hoopla (ebook)

Request in Catalog
About the Author

Cary is our Development & Outreach Librarian. Her idea of a perfect day is a complete stereotype: reading or watching British crime fiction with a cup of hot tea close at hand, her favorite quilt, and her cat Clio on her lap.