Pelé, Conan Doyle and Fu Manchu
By MICHAEL CAINES
Murder in the Library, a free exhibition in the British Library's open Folio Gallery space, opens today; items on display include, as above, crime novels by unlikely suspects such as the great footballer Pelé (acclaimed on the front cover as the "Dick Francis of the football thriller") and the striptease artiste Gypsy Rose Lee (the strapline reads: "Strangled . . . with their own G strings").
But there are also copies rare and commonplace of Golden Age favourites, nineteenth-century forebears (including a true-crime account by a "Disciple of Edgar Poe"), oddities (a crime jigsaw, a solve-it-yourself collaboration by Dennis Wheatley and the art historian J. G. Links), and some modern descendants of the flawed detectives of old: Dave Robicheaux, Inspector "Endeavour" Morse.
All of this is arranged in an efficient alphabet of A–Z displays: N is for Nordic Noir, O is for Oxford, etc. In this way, any doubters who drift into the gallery, one flight of stairs up from the foyer, are implicitly advised that the genre permits this kind of compendious treatment. There's a slight drawback, in that those subjects that would require a double entry under V – Villains and Victims – get short shrift. And Nordic Noir might be currently enjoying its own Golden Age, but there's more to say about other parts of the world, too. You could run a whole exhibition on Italian detectives alone, I'm told, from Brunetti to Soneri, via Marcus Didius Falco and Montalbano.
One villain who does appear, in dubious taste as ever, is Sax Rohmer's Dr Fu-Manchu: "tall, lean, and feline, high-shouldered, with a brow like Shakespeare and a face like Satan, a close-shaven skull, and long, magnetic eyes of the true cat-green". Some of Rohmer's books were reissued last year, and you can read what our reviewer, Alison Wood, had to say about them here.
And for aficionados of Sherlock Holmes, there is one glorious glimpse behind the scenes: a neat page from the manuscript of "The Adventure of the Retired Colourman". Note that the young Inspector Mackinnon of Scotland Yard, who cries, towards the bottom of the page, "Pooh! What an awful smell of paint!", will have to toughen up if he's going to last in this job – and that at the end of the story, he takes the credit for Holmes's detective work.