Invisible Ink: No 116 - British Library Invisibles
Sunday 25 March 2012
A bit of a departure this week, to celebrate the British Library's championing of forgotten authors. The jewel in their crown is the republication of the world's first detective novel, The Notting Hill Mystery by Charles Warren Adams, which had been serialised in the magazine Once A Week between 1862 and 1863.
Until the crime expert Julian Symons mentioned it in 1972, the No 1 slot had always been taken by Wilkie Collins with The Moonstone, although Emile Gaboriau's L'Affaire Lerouge had been published in France in 1866. Edgar Allen Poe created C Auguste Dupin, but he only appeared in three short stories, and quite a few casebook reminiscences of various detectives turned up, but there were no complete novels. As is often the case, there was a groundswell of interest in this literary area before a star – Sherlock Holmes – emerged and was venerated above all others, and the rest were lost in the rush.
In its new incarnation, The Notting Hill Mystery proves innovative and cheerfully demented, as it is presented in the form of diary entries, family letters, witness interviews, a chemical analysis report and a crime scene map. Its hero is an insurance investigator building a case against a sinister baron, and the case incorporates kidnapping, acid poisoning, three murders, a dodgy mesmerist and – of course – a rich uncle's will, all embellished with George Du Maurier's illustrations. Charles Warren Adams was a journalist and lawyer who wrote under a pseudonym, and it's good to have him back.
The British Library's collection evolved over 250 years, with more than 150 million items including books, journals, manuscripts, music, photographs, patents, newspapers and recordings, so there's plenty of scope for rediscovering and repackaging rarities.
I'm keen on having a crack at porpoise with wheat porridge, a rare recipe from their culinary horror The Curious Cookbook, which offers up mashed potato sandwich, roasted peacock, viper soup, parrot pie with beef and lemon peel, and curried kangaroo tails, all dishes culled from the British Library stacks. Likewise, The Epicure's Almanack is a never-before-reprinted 1815 good food guide to 650 eating establishments in London by Ralph Roylance, who visited tripe shops, coaching inns, tea gardens and London's first Indian restaurant in search of fine fare.
Is this merely esoterica? Perhaps, but looking through the depressing piles of serial killer tat that pass for current novels in station bookshops, you might be better off with the bonkers baron.
No 116British Library Invisibles
Listen to his collaboration with Naughty Boymusic
Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Katie Hopkins attacked me on Twitter — so I reported her to the police for inciting racial hatred
- 2 I might be an MP, but that doesn't stop me fighting sexism with my breasts
- 3 Martha Stewart accuses Snoop Dogg of 'smoking for four hours' during Justin Bieber Roast
- 4 Google April Fools': company unveils backwards search engine and huggable digital assistant
- 5 April Fools' Day 2015: The best hoax news stories from around the internet
Tidal launch: The most pretentious lines from Alicia Keys' valedictory speech
Tidal: Jay Z's Spotify rival criticised for making wealthy artists even richer
Top Gear live to go ahead: Jeremy Clarkson to join Richard Hammond and James May... just don't call it Top Gear
Fifty Shades of Grey movie shows first sex scene 'after 40 minutes'
James May hints he will not continue on Top Gear without Jeremy Clarkson
Ukip supporters are 55 or older, white and socially conservative, finds British Social Attitudes Report
Street preacher quoting from the Bible fined for calling homosexuality an 'abomination'
Woman filmed launching racist tirade against men on the Tube for speaking in 'own lingo'
Katie Hopkins attacked me on Twitter — so I reported her to the police for inciting racial hatred
The West has it totally wrong on Lee Kuan Yew
David Cameron calls Labour 'hopeless, sneering socialists' while announcing 7-day NHS plans