Welcome to Secret Library, in which authors nominate three books that aren’t given the attention they deserve. Today the library is staffed by Dolores Gordon-Smith, who is the author of the Jack Haldean murder mystery series set in 1920s England, the Dr Anthony Brooke WWI spy stories, and the introduction to the classic crime novel, The Ponson Case, for HarperCollins. She hosts the How I Got Published column in the Warner Bros. Writing Magazine where she invites debut authors to share their journey to publication. For the last three years, Dolores has been a popular speaker at Bodies from the Library, a day devoted to the Golden Age of crime fiction in the British Library. Her latest novel, Serpent’s Eye, was published last month by Williams and Whiting.
The Code of the Woosters by P G Wodehouse
I first came across P G Wodehouse when I was about ten or so, and for anyone who loves words, I honestly can’t think of a better writer to have joyously encountered at a young age. Since then, I’ve re-read Wodehouse many times and, just as Evelyn Waugh’s quoted as saying on the backs of the old Penguin editions, ‘His idyllic world can never stale’.
Virtually everyone’s heard of Wodehouse but unless you’ve actually read the books and only know TV adaptions, it’s only too easy to get the idea it’s a world of upper-class idiots, talking in affected voices, caught up in stupid situations. The reality is so much better. The Code of the Woosters is one of his best books. The language sparkles, the characters are very believable and the plot is great. It’s an inverted detective story, a form that Wodehouse relished. Wodehouse worked long and hard on his plots and this book is just perfection.
Feet of Clay by Terry Pratchett
Like Wodehouse, Terry Pratchett is known for comedy, and it can come as a surprise to first time readers of either to realise how much serious stuff is bound up with the humour. Like Wodehouse too, Terry Pratchett wrote a great deal without being credited with one particular masterpiece. Feet of Clay is an outstanding book as the man of clay, the Golem, finds his true life. It’s also a corker of a detective story, as Sam Vimes tries to work out how the ruler of the city is being slowly poisoned. All decent authors create their own worlds, but the Discworld is one I want to return to time after time.
The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins
This is another book I read when about ten, and it’s just as gripping now. For sheer romance, the prologue, which recounts the theft of the diamond in India can’t be topped and after that, we’re plunged into an enthralling story of theft, misunderstanding and deception. It’s the characters and the marvellous evocations of place that stand out but as a technical achievement it’s astonishing. It’s the first real detective story in English and Collins, years before anyone else, nailed it to perfection.
Check out Dolores’ beautiful art deco website, and also Serpent’s Eye. And do look in at some of the previous entries in the series.