Cordelia On Screen.

P.D. James’ young London private detective Cordelia Gray debuted in the 1972 novel, An Unsuitable Job For A Woman (see the preceding post for more about that book). Twenty-two, just this side of broke, partnered with a former Scotland Yard detective in a none-too-successful P.I. agency, Cordelia suddenly must take over when she finds her one-time mentor and former boss dead in his office. 

The first Cordelia Gray novel was not only a bit of a groundbreaker, being a decade ahead of some more well-known mystery series led by women detectives, but also a darn good read. So, it’s surprising that writer James (1920 – 2014) only penned one more Cordelia Gray novel, and that one came ten years later. But presumably the character resonated with fans nonetheless, first in a 1982 film that quickly came and went (and if it’s still lurking out there somewhere, I haven’t found it), then, fifteen years later, Cordelia reappeared, and this time more successfully. 

The UK 1997 – 2001 BBC series of feature length episodes started out based in part on James’ novel, but the rest used original stories, though intended at least to maintain the novelist’s tone and stay true to the character. To be fair, there really were only two Cordelia Gray novels to adapt. Some sites suggest that P.D. James wasn’t entirely thrilled with the film/TV adaptations and remained determined to undermine anymore attempts (thus, refusing to write another Cordelia Gray novel). True or myth, I can’t say. I can say that the series lead, Helen Baxendale, does a very credible job of portraying Cordelia Gray. Baxendale may be more familiar to U.S audiences (or at least Gen-Xr’s and syndicated rerun channel watchers) as Emily Waltham, David Schwimmer/Ross Geller’s unlucky British girlfriend/fiancée/wife from the NBC mega-hit sitcom Friends. Baxendale’s real-life first pregnancy may have cut short her stint on that US series, but was neatly written in to An Unsuitable Job For A Woman. So, Ms. Gray joined the select club of literary/TV/film/comics private eyes and cops mothers and moms-to-be. 

In A Man’s World.

The Innocent Bottle

Lucy Beatrice Malleson (1899 – 1973) wrote general fiction under the Anne Meredith pen name, but more famously as “Anthony Gilbert”, with over 70 mystery novels to her credit, most of those featuring the somewhat groundbreaking (kind of hard-boiled and vulgar) London lawyer Arthur Crook, that long running series beginning in 1936 and continuing to the last novel in 1974, released after the author’s death. Several of Malleson’s Anthony Gilbert novels were adapted to British films in the 1940’s, as well as a 1963 Alfred Hitchcock Hour episode, and two of her short stories were Edgar Award nominees.

Breaking into the crowded field of what many consider the ‘golden age’ of both British and American crime fiction, Lucy Malleson decided to adopt a male pen name and stuck with it, apparently quite successfully…going so far as to pose for her author photo dressed as a man.

Anthony Gilbert Books Montage

I first spotted her re-released Orion Publishing memoir Three-A-Penny — In A Man’s World: The Classic Memoir Of A 1930’s Writer, with a new introduction by Sophie Hannah, at the Crime Fiction Lover blog’s e-newsletter. It looks like the UK edition comes out before Christmas, though a U.S. trade paperback isn’t due till April, 2020. Not sure I can wait till Spring for this one. Methinks some bookstore clerk’s going to be pestered once again this week.

Three-A-Penny

 

The Poets Of Tabloid Murder

golden age

“The Poets of Tabloid Murder”: That’s a chapter title in Peter Haining’s The Golden Age Of Crime Fiction: The Authors, The Artists And Their Creations From 1920 To 1950. I love that line. It ought to be a book title. I just might have to steal it for something.

British author Peter Haining (1940 – 2007) is well known to genre fans, and not just the mystery genre. Horror aficionados surely know him well from numerous anthologies and non-fiction books on ghosts, vampires, the Frankenstein legend and Dracula – Bram Stoker’s Count and the historical figure. He wrote several novels of his own, and worked under a couple of pen names as well. For mystery fans, Haining has authored a number of books on the roots of crime fiction and the art of mystery pulps, comics and books. When it comes to the hard-boiled and noir-ish segment of the genre, Americans tend to think of it as all ‘ours’, the hard-drinking, hard-fighting, hard-loving private eyes being uniquely American creations. It’s good to get another perspective, which if not a truly global overview, still one that forces Yanks to open their eyes to other authors, films, books and illustrators from England, France and elsewhere.

The Golden Age Of Crime Fiction takes a quick look at the roots of the mystery genre, then plunges in to the 1920’s era, which you could argue was dominated by British writers. It covers all the obvious bases in pulp magazines and the postwar paperback revolution through the rise of espionage novels (in the 1950’s, largely a British trend that wouldn’t really explode in the U.S. until the early sixties). My two favorite chapters in this handsome and lushly illustrated book are the already mentioned “The Poets Of Tabloid Murder” and the chapter that follows, “The Mean Streets of Crime Noir”, these two covering the hard-boiled and noir novels of the 1940 – 1950’s era, with special attention paid to the rise of hard-boiled crime fiction in the U.K., which erupted once readers got a glimpse of Raymond Chandler, James Cain, W.R. Burnett and others. While we may be familiar with postwar British crime fiction’s saucy book covers (often as not, done by British artist Reginald Heade) frequently seen on many blogs and sites, it’s good to read up on the novels’ writers, like James Hadley Chase, Michael Storme and Hank Janson (Stephen Francis). Some of these British writers and their publishers had to grapple with obscenity suits and arrests, the British market still a little more conservative than the U.S. scene when it came to murder, violence and most of all, sex.

Published by the UK’s Prion Books, this book was from the local library oddly enough, but I see it’s readily available online. You can bet I’ll be ordering one to keep.

 

 

 

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