Wednesday, 14 December 2011

2011 Christmas Quiz - with answers

Having been accused by all and sundry of making these much too difficult in the past, I have decided to limit this year's to just ten questions. All of them concern writers who either write under different names, or are themselves fictional creations.

1. Who wrote well over 100 books over the course of a long career utilising both his own name and roughly 22 others, including Margeret Cooke  and J.J. Marric? A: John Creasey
2. Which well-known poet wrote detective fiction under a pseudonym, featuring the detective Nigel Strangeways? Both names, please. A: Cecil Day Lewis, Ncholas Blake
3. Who write a number of books in which a female detective writer, once herself put on trial for murder, features as one of the leading characters alongside an aristocratic companion? Author and character, please. A: Dorothy L.Sayers, Harriet Vane
4. The "Alexandria Quartet" features not one but two writers, one of whom acts as the narrator of the first volume. Who is the other, already an established novelist at the time of the story? A: Pursewarden (of course)
5. Who is the real author of "Hermione's Five o'clock chit chat" in "Lucia in London"? A: Stephen Merriall
6. By what name is Eric Blair better known? A: George Orwell
7. Which well-knonw historical writer with an active fan following used her maiden name of Halliday to write detective fiction in the 1960s and 1970s? A: Dorothy Dunnett (Halliday)
8. Under what name did Elizabeth Mackintosh write? A: Josephne Tey
9. As James Hilton he wrote "Goodbye Mr Chips" and "Lost Horizon", which became the film "Shangri-La", but what was the writer's real name? A: Glen Trevor
10. In Simon Raven's "Alms for Oblivion" series, which former army office becomes a successful novelist? A: Fielding Gray

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

"The Poisoned Chocolates Case" by Anthony Berkeley

The journalist A.B.Cox, who wrote for Punch, the Daily Telegraph and the Sunday Times wrote both as Anthony Berkely and Francis Iles. The latter pseudonym is perhaps better known, one book inspiring the Hitchcock classic Suspicion. As Anthony Berkely, Cox wrote the Roger Sheringham stories, a classic product of the Golden Age of detective writing (Cox was born in 1893, only three years after Agatha Christie).

The Poisoned Chocolates Case has always been one of my favourite of the Sheringham books. It gently satirises the cult of the gentleman detective, each member of his "Crime Circle", a society of amateur sleuths coming up in turn with a different but perfectly plausible explanation of the same facts, and each fingering a different murderer. It is perhaps unique in the genre in featuring a gentleman detective who can actually get it wrong.

Berekeley's books are often more complex than one finds with those of his contemporaries. The morality is often far from clear-cut, with likable murderers and detestable victims. He also plays narrative tricks, such as writing what does not feel like a crime novel at all and suddenly turning it midstream into a murder story. He did incidentally have a very good knowledge of police procedures from his journalistic activities and two of his novels, The Wychford Poisoning Case and The Anatomy of Murder are based on real life cases.

Happily some of his books have now been reprinted, and are also well worth looking out for in second hand bookshops. The Silk Stocking Murders and Murder in the Basement are also on my bookshelves and can be strongly recommended.