In Gallows Court (Poisoned Pen, Sept.; reviewed on this page), Edwards captures the spirit of detective fiction’s golden age between the world wars.
How did you come to write Gallows Court?
The real driver was my recent involvement in the revival of golden age fiction, as consultant to the British Library’s Crime Classics and author of The Golden Age of Murder. So it made sense to have a go at writing a novel set during the golden age. I wanted it to be a sort of homage, but not a pastiche. And, as a storyteller, I felt ready to take some chances. The catalyst was the character of Rachel Savernake—young, fabulously rich, and extraordinarily ruthless—who arrives in London in 1930 and involves herself in a sequence of bizarre murder mysteries.
Which golden age author was the greatest influence on you?
Dorothy Sayers and her colleagues in the Detection Club refused to allow thriller writers to join, because the literary standards of thrillers were deemed to be unsatisfactory. So I wanted to write a thriller that Dorothy might, however reluctantly, have approved.
What aspects of golden age novels were most important to emulate?
First, to make sure that the plot was as elaborate as in the best golden age mysteries, whilst maintaining a strong focus on character and seeking to evoke the period in an atmospheric and convincing way. Second, to play with golden age tropes, but in unorthodox fashion. In the first chapter, for instance, there’s a version of a locked room murder. In my book, the way the crime committed is not a puzzle for the reader to solve—we know exactly what has happened, but crucially, we don’t know why. So it’s a nod to a classic form of detective story, but I use the trope for my own purposes in telling the story of Rachel Savernake.
What is the golden age’s legacy today?
For many years, golden age fiction was deeply unfashionable. Things have changed in the last decade. Digital publishing has made it possible to revive books that have been unavailable for many years. And once people start reading the books, they realize that many of them are very good stories, as well as intriguing social documents. People are seeing for themselves that the former critical consensus, that golden age stories were uniformly cozy, conservative, and conventional, was mistaken. Writers, too, have taken on board some of the storytelling values of the golden age. There are many excellent pastiches of golden age fiction, but there are also fine books which make inventive use of classical plot devices, refashioning them for the 21st century.