Cosy crime

Round & About


Author and journalist Michael Smith is talking murder this month with the popularity of whodunnits, a good mystery and quirky characters all adding to the killer plots

Those easy-paced detective novels – where you try to solve the crime before the detective – are perennial bookshop favourites. Witness the recent success of Richard Osman’s The Thursday Murder Club novels or Robert Thorogood’s similarly titled The Marlow Murder Club series.

Now the Crime Writers’ Association is getting in on the act with a new addition to its legendary Dagger awards. The Daggers have tended to go for more complex and innovative crime thrillers, with interesting settings and psychological twists rather than the more traditional Agatha Christie-style detective mysteries. But the Whodunnit Dagger will celebrate the increasingly popular “modern cosy, traditional crime, and Golden Age mysteries”. The association says the new award “will focus on the intellectual challenge at the heart of a good mystery and revolve around often quirky characters”.

The quirky character is of course one of the most important staples of the ‘whodunnit’. Dilly Knox, himself one of the quirkiest of the Bletchley Park codebreakers, and his two brothers Evoe, a journalist, and Ronnie, a successful writer of murder mysteries, devised a set of 10 strict rules to which whodunnits must adhere. They included that the killer must be mentioned in the first five chapters, and that no supernatural causes, no previously unknown poisons and no more than one secret room or passage were allowed. The rules were adopted in 1929 as the Solemn Oath of the Writer’s Detection Club, which included such luminaries as Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers.

The small south Oxfordshire town of Wallingford, where Round & About is put together and published, can fairly claim to be “cosy crime central”. Agatha Christie was one of the town’s most famous inhabitants. She and her husband bought a house there beside the Thames in 1934 and she was still living there when she died in 1976. There’s a bronze bench statue looking out over a park where you can sit beside her.

The town and the surrounding villages have also been repeatedly featured as locations in that long-running cosy crime series Midsomer Murders. Now Marlow, just down the river, is to be featured on television as well with Thorogood, a successful television writer and producer with Murder in Paradise, bringing The Marlow Murder Club to the small screen. Samantha Bond plays the lead character Judith Potts, a retiree living alone in a Thames-side mansion who drags two of her friends into investigating murder.

Can’t wait!