Thursday, May 8, 2014

"A Factor in Bringing about the Depression Era Renaissance of the Mystery Story"

THE OMNIBUS OF CRIME.
Edited by Dorothy L. Sayers (1893-1957).
Payson & Clarke.
1929. 1177 pages. $3.00
Anthology: 62 stories.
Two contemporary and one not-so-contemporary reviews:
It has always been our belief that the reviewer should read the books he criticizes, if only for the purpose of avoiding being himself severely criticized by author and publisher.
But we admit frankly that we haven't read all the 1200 pages of this tome. Here are 62 short and long-short stories—half of them tales of detection and mystery, half of mystery and horror—selected by Dorothy L. Sayers—who is herself a most competent writer of the same.
She writes also an interesting introduction, showing the why and how of this form of fiction, which, if you are an addict, should provide you with a well reasoned apology. If you feel the need of one. Personally we don't. We have read and enjoyed mystery and horror for years, and the faint air of apology with which people show the title of a detective story when asked what they are reading seems to us an affectation, and a confession of the most poisonous form of pseudo-intellectual snobbism.
Personally, if the old "What single book for a desert isle" question was asked us at this moment, we should promptly choose this one. It's not only the best selection we've ever seen; it is, we believe, the best selection possible. — Walter R. Brooks, "The Week's Reading," THE OUTLOOK (September 11, 1929; Jump To page 70, center)
There are sixty-two detective stories here, representing every form of the art. Among the authors included are Poe, Conan Doyle, Eden Phillpotts, G. K. Chesterton, Aldous Huxley, Mrs. Oliphant, Charles Dickens, Robert Hichens, Arthur Machen, Sax Rohmer, Ambrose Bierce, Jerome K. Jerome, R. L. Stevenson, Joseph Conrad, May Sinclair, Walter de la Mare, Edward Lucas White and H. G. Wells. The introduction by the editor is a brief survey of the history of detective fiction. — "Checklist of New Books," THE AMERICAN MERCURY (October 1929; Jump To page 96, top left)
The book was reissued about thirty years later:

THE OMNIBUS OF CRIME.
Edited by Dorothy L. Sayers (1893-1957) .
Harcourt, Brace & World.
1961. 920 pages. $4.95
Anthology: 62 stories.
First issued in 1929, this jumbo of an anthology (920 pp.) was a factor in bringing about the Depression era renaissance of the mystery story; contents run from the Apocrypha to H. G. Wells; editor's introduction is fine historical survey of field. Welcome back! — Sergeant Cuff, "Criminal Brief," THE SATURDAY REVIEW (May 27, 1961)
Resources:
- Sayers's famous introduction to THE OMNIBUS has been reproduced (rather poorly) as a PDF HERE.
- Her introduction to THE SECOND OMNIBUS OF CRIME is HERE [Jump To page 5].
- Mike Ripley assesses Sayers as a detective fiction critic HERE.
- Sayers's story "The Man Who Knew How" is HERE.

Category: Detective fiction

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