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A Modern Day Agatha Christie

UK Bookselling Series

by Claire Main

#98, 9 July 2007

Ok, I have to admit it - I'm a sucker for 1920s detective fiction. Cucumber sandwiches cut into triangles, stylish young men with sharply creased trousers and manners to match, elegant Ladies sipping afternoon tea, Art Deco manses, chauffeured Rolls Royce's, formidable aunts (spinster or dowager) - yes, I love it all. It does help if the book has believable, likeable characters and a good plot that moves at a brisk pace. Dolores Gordon-Smith has achieved all this and more with her first novel, A Fete Worse than Death, cracking this difficult genre, dominated as it is by Dame Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, et al.

She has at once captured the golden age of the 1920s and couched it in a modern, entertaining style. Jack Haldean is a strong leading character; Dolores has surrounded him with a well-drawn supporting cast, not to mention formatted everything so as to propagate an entire series of Jack Haldean mysteries. It's easy to imagine it being adapted for the small screen.

Constable and Robinson (UK) and Carroll and Graff (US) are the respective publishing houses behind the series. Already they have developed a reputation for discovering authors who have game in this genre. Catriona McPherson is their latest success story, her Dandy Gilver series snatched up by major publishers Hodder and Stoughton just after the second book was published. It seems that Dolores will be following in the footsteps of Catriona, launching a major publicity campaign in the UK this summer.

A Fete Worse than Death can be purchased at Amazon, either publishing house, and most bookshops. So, if you are like me and wish you had the opportunity to step back in time to buy an Agatha Christie first printing, here is a good possibility.

Book Description

In the summer of 1922, Jack Haldean, a young ex-Royal Flying Corps pilot and crime writer, was thoroughly enjoying his day at the Red Cross fête in Breedenbrook, Sussex. It seemed to sum up the dream of the peaceful world which had sustained him through 4 years of war. Then he met Jeremy Boscombe. Boscombe, cynical, rude and abusively tipsy, had been a thorn in Jack's side during the war and hadn't improved since.

When Boscombe is found murdered in the fortune-teller's tent and his equally unsavoury pal, Reggie Morton, is found murdered in the Talbot Arms, it poses a real mystery.

Jack is convinced that the root of the crime goes back to an incident on the Somme, when a party of British soldiers were betrayed, ambushed and killed in the tunnels under the Augier Ridge. The young Marguerite Vayle passionately wants to forget the past, but, along with everyone else, she discovers that old sins have very long shadows indeed. As Jack becomes ever more involved, those old sins flare into life, bringing love, revenge and hatred - and murder.

Jack's search for the truth leads him into the silent tunnels carved out of the chalk of the Somme. Here, surrounded by the dead of that fatal day, the dead themselves lead him to the final solution - a solution which means he must face his deadliest enemy to survive.

Product Details (UK Edition)

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Constable and Robinson (28 Jun 2007)
  • Language English
  • ISBN-10: 1845295951
  • ISBN-13: 978-1845295950

Product Details (US Edition)

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Carroll & Graf Publishers (Jun 2007)
  • Language English
  • ISBN-10: 0786719850
  • ISBN-13: 978-0786719853
  • Product Dimensions: 21.8 x 14.2 x 3.3 cm

Collectors Notes

  • Printing numbers generally run 5% over to under projections. The exact number of first edition hardbacks printed is 1200 in the UK and 1500 in the US.
  • 50 copies from the UK first print run are part of an exclusive Limited Edition which has been stamped, signed, lined, dated and numbered by the author. The stamp features a likeness of protagonist Jack Haldean in his Spyker car. It was designed by the author.
  • 50 copies from the UK first print run have been double signed by the author and illustrator, lined, numbered, dated and have 5 variants of doodles (Abi-plane, a smoking revolver, a knife dripping with berlud, a crystal ball and a row of playing cards with a fortune teller theme).

Current prices for first printings in fine condition are as follows: The exclusive Limited Edition stamped copies can be had from around £39.99, a Doodled hardback copy from £44.99, a signed hardback copy from £18.99, and unsigned hardbacks from £12.53. So, there is still chance to get a collectable book at a great price.

A Fete Worse than Death is a fantastic book. I'm looking forward to the next installment. Check out the website and join the Jack Haldean forum: Plus, if you get the correct answers to the quiz questions below, you will be entered into a competition to win a framed signed publicity postcard and a Royal Flying Corps cap badge which Jack Haldean might have worn. Submit your answers to Dolores Gordon-Smith at her website. The winner will be announced by Editor-in-Chief Craig Stark on July 15th.

Quiz questions

NOTE: Some of the answers can be found only on the website.]

  1. Jack Haldean, the hero of A Fete Worse Than Death, drives a Spyker. In which country were Spykers manufactured?

  2. Which magazine does Jack write for?

  3. Hesperus, Sussex, is the country house where a lot of the action of A Fete Worse Than Death takes place. What does the word Hesperus mean?

  4. Who is the police officer in charge of the case known as The Affair At Torrington Place?

  5. What is the title of the second Jack Haldean book to be published in 2008?

  6. Tie breaker question. The prize will go to whoever provides (in the author's opinion!) the best recipe for a cocktail, either alcoholic or non-alcoholic.

The name of the winner and the winning cocktail will be posted on the website after the competition closes.

So, be warned, if you read this book your partners will be in for a tough time. You will expect nothing but the best manners and behaviour. A new wardrobe of clothes (or suits), meals in the best restaurants, and at the very least a butler and an upstairs maid.

Good luck, chaps!

Questions or comments?
Contact the editor, Craig Stark

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