Invisible Ink: No 150 - Anthony Berkeley Cox
Sunday 18 November 2012
Sometimes it's not just authors who go out of fashion but the style of novels themselves. Collaborative novels were produced by the Detection Club, with each member writing a chapter, and one author selected for the unenviable task of tying up all the loose ends. Anthony Berkeley Cox was one of crime fiction's greatest innovators, and its least remembered. He organised the dinner meetings that led to the club's foundation, and had the temerity to parody Dorothy L Sayers' Lord Peter Wimsey in its second collaborative novel, Ask a Policeman, something for which the grand lady took a long time to forgive him.
Cox was born into affluence in 1893 (he was related to the Earl of Monmouth) and served in the Army during the First World War before becoming a journalist. His first novel was published anonymously. He then began writing unusual novels under a number of pseudonyms. The Wychford Poisoning Case took a number of facts from the famous Florence Maybrick arsenic poisoning and explored it by adding psychological insight. He said: "Every detective must be a psychologist, whether he knows it or not."
More interested in the path leading to criminal behavior than the whodunnit aspect, Cox took the approach to its zenith in The Poisoned Chocolates Case by having six armchair investigators come up with six separate plausible solutions to the mystery. Under the name of Francis Iles he wrote his finest pair of novels, in which the outcome is revealed in the opening lines. In Malice Aforethought, we follow Dr Bickleigh setting out to kill his wife, and in Before the Fact, we're told that heroine Lina will discover her husband Johnny is a murderer. In the latter, suspense escalates as Lina finds clues to Johnny's behavior – his gambling, his stealing – and gives him the opportunity to explain his actions. Johnny is so charismatic that he always has a plausible ready excuse, and despite everything, still brings light into her life. The tension lies in wanting to know how long it will be before she ceases to be blindsided by him; before the book's utterly devastating final chapter explains the true nature of victimhood. It was filmed by Alfred Hitchcock as Suspicion (with the famous glowing glass of milk but a much weaker script) and has now been reprinted by Arcturus Press.
'Invisible Ink: How 100 Great Authors Disappeared' by Christopher Fowler is published on 19 November 2012 (Strange Attractor Press, £9.99)
TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice
Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites
TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
- 2 Harry Potter fans can apply to the Hogwarts-inspired College of Wizardry
- 3 Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
- 4 Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
- 5 Orange Wednesdays are no more
Peter Lik: The self-proclaimed 'fine-art photographer' whose work sells for millions
The best underrated Christmas movies from Love, Actually to While You Were Sleeping
Grace Dent on TV: The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies was a beautifully shot, immensely considered drama
The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies, review: Jason Watkins is brilliant, but real victim Joanna Yeates is reduced to a footnote
Marilyn Manson denies involvement in shocking Lana Del Rey rape video
Disgruntled RBS worker writes hilarious open letter to Russell Brand after anti-capitalist publicity stunt leaves him hungry
Nigel Farage defends Kerry Smith 'ch***y' comment: 'If you are going for a Chinese, what do you say you’re going for?'
Nigel Farage's approval rating hits 'record low' as popularity suffers in wake of Ukip sex scandal
Pakistan school attack live: Taliban kill at least 132 children in 'horrifying' massacre
Sony hack: Angelina Jolie branded 'seriously out of her mind' in further embarrassing leaked email saga
Panic Saturday: 13 million Britons spend £1.2bn – while 13 million others across the country live in poverty unable to afford food