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October 15, 2013

Felony of the Week: Unexpected Night

I think it’s fair to say that all fiction represents a vacation. But Golden Age detective fiction, more than any genre I can think of, offers a sojourn in a happy place, a world in which even the worst things – murder, for example – are almost entirely without consequences. It’s like visiting a country where chocolate cake and mashed potatoes have no calories.

For most Golden Age fiction, this scenario plays out against a backdrop of England between the wars, a mythic land of country estates and twinsets, jovial vicars, bumbling coppers, and servants who know their place. But Elizabeth Daly’s 16 novels featuring Henry Gamadge, a wealthy man-about-town and an expert in rare books, add a dollop of special sauce, in that the “town” in question is in fact New York in the 1940s and 50s, the most glamorous city in the world.

The combination of these two elements – a New York in which the Chrysler Building’s spire points the way to an ever-glittering future, and a classic Golden Age structure, with its clues, its eventual sense of order restored, and (more than anything) its erudite Gentleman Sleuth – this combo adds up to something quite and quietly delightful. It’s no wonder that Elizabeth Daly was said to be Agatha Christie’s favorite mystery writer.

As with most Golden Age fiction, the books in the Gamadge series can stand on their own, meaning that readers can dip in and out of the series at will, without trying to keep the order straight. That said, I always find it fascinating to watch a writer progress over the course of her body of work, so we’re offering 25% off this week on Unexpected Night, which introduced the problem-solving Mr. Gamadge to his public.

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