As an avid mystery reader, I’m a huge fan of Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh, Dorothy L. Sayers and many other excellent 1920s mysteries. The “Golden Age” of mysteries is my favorite era. They combine plot driven books that are suspenseful without being terrifying with an intellectual puzzle to be solved and character driven stories that focus on people.
Writing a book in this era requires a great deal of research if you want to create an immersive world. The 1920s is nearly a hundred years ago now. You need to preserve historical accuracy like names, landscape, clothing, social norms, technology, economy, vocabulary and even how they thought based on their age and experience. But while you want your protagonist to be utterly of their time, you also need to balance this with changing world views and norms.
England is difficult when you consider social classes, World War I (the Great War) and colonialism. There were many things changing in a good way like women’s right to vote and worker protection laws from the new Labour Party, but it was also a dark time with another war looming and many still living in abject poverty. Another challenge is that the immediate past of the protagonist (such as their parents’ upbringing or the era they lived in) also plays a part in their beliefs, so I found myself digging into the late 1800’s as well.
While I appreciate the Golden Age novels giving us a stimulating puzzle to enjoy and often a privileged world, they only sometimes explore social injustices. I’ll give examples where I feel they do call for change more than we might realize. But I still feel we owe a debt to those who suffered not to gloss over their pain even as we stay optimistic in a changing world.
I decided to share the research I’ve been doing, which books have been invaluable and thoughts about murder mystery books set in this era. Hopefully this will help anyone interested in the 1920’s in England, writing or reading mysteries, or just general interest in that period.
5 thoughts on “England in the 1920s, mysteries and more”
Great stuff. I write on this decade. Fascinating.
Thanks! I enjoy it but it does take a lot of research to get right. I’ll definitely check out your blog, what do you write?
I’ve only been writing for a short while, just some pretty standard detective genre but it’s the period setting that’s critical to the stories, none of the fancy CSI tech solving crimes — a simpler age. You are so correct on the research, trick then is not to slap your reader in the face with it. Detail has to be relative to the narrative or it sounds like clumsy add on.
Yes that’s definitely a challenge! Btw I see you have a novel going on your blog, you should check out inkshares.com. It is a crowd-sourced publishing firm (think Kickstarter for books). There are a few 1920’s British mysteries up there right now 🙂
Will do. Thanks for the steer.