- Sue Hawley
The Queens of Crime
There were four women who, during the 1920’s and 1930’s, ruled the crime genre of women writers. I’ve already shared the most diverse writer of these four talented women: Agatha Christie who had multiple lead characters. The remaining three are mostly known for a single focal lead character even if they had created several, and many of today’s readers (at least readers under a certain age) have never heard of them and that’s a shame.
Ngaio Marsh was born in New Zealand. A fiercely independent woman, she focused on her writing and never married. Extremely private, she destroyed all letters, manuscripts, and documents before her death. In my opinion her crowning achievement was the creation of her character, Roderick Alleyn, a gentlemen detective. His brother was a baronet, his mother Lady Alleyn, while he is simply a member of the London Police. A thoughtful man, he solved crimes with the help of his equally entertaining side-kick, Inspector Fox. British television has a series based on Ms. Marsh’s books and is well worth watching.
Margery Allingham was born in London, England. Her lead character is Albert Campion who we are led to believe is part of the gentry (and possibly the royal family) of England, but we never know with absolute certainty. He is a truly fun character whose real name is kept from us- Campion is a wildflower bordering on weed in the UK. Readers of this series do know he worked in intelligence during World War I and, for some reason, has many criminal friends whom he can utilize when necessary, including his manservant, Lugg, a former burglar. Peter Davison played the part of Mr. Campion to perfection in my humble opinion during the shows run from 1989-1990.
Dorthy L. Sayers is the fourth member of the group. She, along with Christie, had more than one main character but is best known for her famous Lord Peter Wimsey. Suffering from what is known today as PTSD following World War I, he is intelligent (though hides it well), witty, and plays the fool more often than not. Ms. Sayers’ less known characters, Mr. Pym along with Montague Egg, are almost completely invisible to today’s readers. She is also known for her Christian books and was a close friend to Christian apologist, C. S. Lewis.
These three women had a huge influence on me while growing up devouring their books. I had a huge crush on Lord Peter (I suspect others were guilty of this as well), laughed heartily at Mr. Campion’s banter, and respected Inspector Alleyn. While my favorite author of the “Queens of Crime” will undoubtedly remain Agatha Christie for her many great characters, these women deserve their place right alongside Dame Agatha in our personal libraries. I hope the next generation of readers- and writers- discovers these excellent writers and their unique, unforgettable characters.