Recent Events

Friday 4 March 2016

Annie Haynes

Detectives of the Golden Age
Annie Haynes (1865-1929)
by Carol Westron

Annie Haynes was born in Leicestershire, the first child of Edwin Haynes and his wife, Jane. Edwin Haynes was an ironmonger and Jane's father was the superintendent of the gardens at Coleorton Court, the country home of the Beaumont family. Haynes' grandfather's position proved important to her life and literary development, because, when her father left his wife and family, Jane Haynes and her two children, Annie and her younger brother, moved back to live with Jane's parents. Living in proximity to a large country house gave Annie Haynes an insight into the ways of country gentry that would serve her well when she turned to writing country house mysteries.

Very little is known of Haynes life during the time she lived with her mother in Leicestershire, but it is known that she was still living there in 1901. However, by 1908 a great deal had changed in Haynes' life and she was living in Central London at the family home of her friend Ada Heather-Bigg. This thrust Haynes into the heart of academic and literary London. Ada Heather-Bigg was one of the first women to receive a degree in economics from UCL (University College London) when the university opened its degrees to women in 1878. She was awarded both the Hume scholarship and the Jevons scholarship, the latter to pursue research on social and economic condition in London in 1891. Ada Heather-Bigg was a vocal leader of the Feminist Movement and a strong advocate for improving women's social, economic and political rights. Ada's father, Henry Heather-Bigg, was a doctor who pioneered the development of artificial limbs. He died in 1891. Her brother, also Henry, was a surgeon, specialising in back injuries, but he was also a Science Fiction writer, the author of The Human Republic (1891), in which the protagonist miniaturises himself into a white blood corpuscle and travels through the human body.

Ada Heather-Bigg lived in Radnor Place, Hyde Park, with her mother and two sisters, and after the death of her mother and the marriage of her two sisters she continued to live there and Annie Haynes stayed there with her. In the 1911 British census Ada Heather-Bigg is listed as the head of household, describing herself as a 'philanthropist and journalist.' Annie Haynes is listed as a 'visitor' and 'novelist.' Whatever was entered on the census form, Haynes was a visitor who remained living there for another eighteen years, until her death in 1929. Until 1923 Haynes was not a novelist in the strict sense of the word, but she did produce a large number of newspaper serial novels, with titles such as Lady Carew's Secret, A Pawn of Chance and Footprints of Fate. At this time, Haynes was an active woman, interested in crime and criminal psychology. Ada Heather-Bigg described how Haynes had cycled 'miles to visit the scene of the Luard murder' (Caroline Luard had been found shot dead in a summerhouse in a village in Kent.) Haynes also took an interest in the Crippen murder case: she 'pushed her way' into the cellar where Crippen's wife's remains had been discovered and she attended the Crippen trial. This awareness of forensic developments and knowledge of criminal trials is obvious in many of Haynes' books and she maintained her interest in forensic developments and criminology.

In The House in Charlton Crescent she illustrates the man-in-the-street's obsession with fingerprints when a juror asks persistent questions about what fingerprints the police discovered on the murder weapon. In The Crime at Tattenham Corner (1929), the
police are hindered by the striation marks in a gun that they believe is the murder weapon not matching those on the cartridge. In
Who Killed Charmian Karslake? (1929) Inspector Stoddard and his assistant indulge in a long discussion of real life murderers.  

In 1914 Haynes began to suffer from severe rheumatoid arthritis, which progressed so that it caused her severe pain and crippled her. In the early 1920s Haynes wrote many of her first novels in Kensington Gardens, where, in fine weather, she was wheeled in a bath chair. However, in the last years of her life it was all she could do to move between her study and bedroom.

In 1923, Haynes' first detective story, The Bungalow Mystery was published by Bodley Head and Haynes dedicated it 'To My Dear Friend Ada Heather-Bigg in Loving Gratitude for Her Constant Help and Guidance.' In the same year, The Abbey Court Murder was also published, again by Bodley Head. Hard though it is to believe today, Haynes' novels were received with great acclaim, equalling the praise given to Agatha Christie, whose early detective novels were also published by Bodley Head. An article in The Illustrated London News observed that 'a very remarkable feature of recent detective fiction is the skill displayed by women in this branch of story-telling. Isabel Ostrander, Carolyn Wells, Annie Haynes and last, but very far from least, Agatha Christie, are contesting the laurels of Sherlock Holmes' creator with great spirit, ingenuity and success.' Today, what seems most remarkable is that in 1923 a major newspaper regarded Haynes as one of the two most significant British female crime writers, with only Christie to rival her. Dorothy L. Sayers, whose first detective novel was also published in 1923, does not get a mention.

The Abbey Court Murder (1923) was the first novel to feature one of Haynes' series detectives, Inspector Furnival of Scotland Yard, who featured in two later novels: The House in Charlton Crescent (1926) and The Crow's Inn Tragedy (1927.) In the three novels featuring him, Furnival is portrayed as an understated, almost anonymous character: 'He was rather unlike the ordinary detective of fiction in that he was small and alert-looking. His sharp inquisitive-looking little face had earned him the sobriquet of 'The Ferret,' when he was lower down in the Force, and the name stuck to him still. But there was many a crook who had learned to dread the Ferret's gimlet-like grey eyes more than he dreaded anything on earth.' (The House on Charlton Crescent, 1926.)

Haynes novels were greeted with approbation, winning such reviews as: 'Miss Haynes has a sense of character; her people are vivid and not the usual puppets of detective fiction.' (The New Statesman, 1925); and 'Excellent as a detective tale, the book is also a charming novel.' (The Spectator, 1929.)

In 1928, Haynes started a new series with Scotland Yard detective
Inspector Stoddard, 'a slight, slim man, quite easily recognisable as a detective in plain clothes.' (Who killed Charmian Karslake? 1929.) Stoddard is assisted by his junior, Alfred Harbord, whom one assumes is a detective sergeant, although his rank is never mentioned.

Sadly, Haynes died in 1929 of heart-failure, probably connected to her long and painful arthritic illness. Who Killed Charmian Karslake? was published posthumously and The Crystal Beads Murder, which Haynes had started, was completed by a friend, who, according to Ada Heather-Bigg, worked out Haynes' intentions for the book, which, apart from the author, only Ada had actually known. The book was published posthumously in 1930. Ada Heather-Bigg wrote a moving foreword to The Crystal Beads Murder, in which she describes the sufferings of a once active woman after ill-health had robbed her of much of her independence. She also said how much support Haynes had received from her publisher and how grateful she was for this. In this Haynes differed from Agatha Christie, who resented the terms of the contract that they had given her as an inexperienced young woman and which she considered exploitative. Christie left Bodley Head as soon as possible and they missed the opportunity to publish her innovative novel The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (1926.) Of course, Haynes' circumstances were very different to those of the much younger Christie. Haynes was in her late fifties when her first detective novel was published and already in failing health, while Christie was twenty-five years younger and at the start of her crime writing career. The two women were regarded as equals in the mid 1920s, but only three of Haynes' books were published in America and by the end of the 1930s her books were all out of print.

Perhaps the most poignant of Haynes' books is The House in Charlton Crescent (1926), in which she describes Lady Anne Daventry, a lady not yet seventy, who had been soured by the loss of her two sons in the Great War and by her own increasing ill-health: 'grief seemed to have hardened, not softened, her whole nature. She who had been gracious and charming became snappy and irritable, and finally, when the rheumatism, from which she had suffered for years, became chronic and brought about a permanent stiffness of the limbs, Lady Anne, while saying little of her sufferings, was a distinctly cross and unpleasant old woman.' Surely there must be an autobiographical tone in Haynes' description of Lady Anne's London home? 'It overlooked the Park, and from her bedroom windows she could watch the stream of London traffic ebbing and flowing along the capital's great artery.'

Many people have commented on the mysterious disappearance of a writer who had been so highly regarded, but I believe there is an equal mystery regarding the disparity between Haynes' writing and what is known of her life. Haynes' early experience of the aristocratic country house was as the granddaughter of a servant. Although, in Who Killed Charmian Karslake? (1929) Haynes does portray resentment amongst the villagers over the high-handed attitudes of those at the 'Big House,' her second series detective, Inspector Stoddard, often appears to be a middle-class snob. Stoddard is cultured and knowledgeable about good food and drink but disturbingly eager to ally himself to the upper classes and contemptuous of those less cultured or of a lower class than himself. He is ruthless and in The Crime at Tattenham Corner (1929) devises a plot to disguise himself and pay court to a woman whom he despises for her coarse appearance and common manners, and is even willing to offer her marriage in order to confirm the suspicion that she knows something she wishes to conceal. He also uses his proximity to this woman to steal a photograph he needs to confirm his theories. His assistant, Harbord adopts a similar, although less culpable attitude, at least when he picks up a potential witness, a housemaid, and takes her out for tea to get information from her, he does not disguise his identity.

There is a strange, moral laxness throughout the attitudes in The Crime at Tattenham Corner. The beautiful and well-born wife of a lord, who is also a rich business tycoon, is treated with respect that borders on servility, despite her extremely suspicious behaviour. At the end of the book, certain well-born and wealthy characters are lauded as heroes and heroines by the general public, including Stoddard and Harbord, despite the fact that they have broken the law, been guilty of cowardice and folly, and wasted a vast amount of police time. After all, they are very glamorous and they do contribute generously to charity.

Of course, Haynes was a shrewd social observer and it could be argued that she was telling it like it was (and still is) with one law for the rich and powerful and another for the rest of the world, but it is still fascinating and rather strange that she endowed her main protagonist with such views. It is even stranger that a woman living in the household of an ardent feminist should continually create female characters that harked back to the helpless heroines of her early writing career. These girls main purpose in the books seems to be to fall in love with a young man and agonise about his honesty and whether he is a murderer, and if not, whether it is right for her to marry him. Haynes frequently created men who were masquerading under a false identity, whether they were suspects or officers of the law, and seemed to accept without adverse comment that many men would flirt with women and deceive them to achieve their own ends.

In the 1911 census, Ada Heather-Bigg, when asked to list the infirmities of any of the women staying in the house (herself, Haynes and three female servants) had described them as 'dumb', because they did not have the vote. Haynes was her close friend, living in her house for over twenty years, and yet, with the possible exception of the strident Aunt Lavinia in The Man with the Dark Beard (1928), Haynes' female characters have none of the sparkle of Tuppence Beresford, the strength of Miss Marple, or the courage and creativity of Harriet Vane or Troy Alleyn. In 1925, The Sketch, rather whimsically observed that 'tired men trotting home at the end of an imperfect day, have been known to pop into the library and ask for an Annie Haynes. They have not made a mistake in the street number. It is not a cocktail they are asking for...' I wonder if Haynes saw it as a compliment that the average man-in-the-street found her so easy to digest?

Haynes' writing style is fluent and her books are easy to read and draw you in. Many of her plots are complex and clever and she is an excellent observer of the social and economic realities of her time. As well as the two short series of Police Procedurals, Haynes wrote five stand-alone detective novels. Twelve books in six years is a remarkable output for anybody, let alone somebody so very ill and suffering constant pain, and the standard of the books is uniformly high.

Haynes' two Police Procedural series are back in print and in Kindle books and are well worth reading. It is
excellent that publishers are bringing back to life Golden Age authors that have been forgotten for too long.

All these books are published by Dean Street Press as paperbacks and are also available in Kindle.

The Inspector Furnival series:
The Abbey Court Murder: ISBN: 978-1911095019
The House in Charlton Crescent: ISBN: 978-1911095033
The Crow's Inn Tragedy: ISBN: 978-1911095057
The Inspector Stoddart series:
The Man with the Dark Beard: ISBN: 978-1910570746
The Crime at Tattenham Corner: ISBN: 978-1910570760
Who Killed Charmian Karslake?: ISBN: 978-1910570784
The Crystal Beads Murder: ISBN: 978-1910570807

Carol Westron is a successful short story writer and a Creative Writing teacher.  She is the moderator for the cosy/historical crime panel, The Deadly Dames.  Her crime novels are set both in contemporary and Victorian times.  The Terminal Velocity of Cats is the first in her Scene of Crimes novels, was published July 2013. Her second book About the Children was published in May 2014.

No comments:

Post a Comment