Detectives of the Golden Age
By Carol Westron
Glyn Daniel was born in a small village in south west Wales, where his father was the village schoolmaster. When Daniel was five, he moved with his parents to another Welsh village in the Vale of Glamorgan. Daniel attended Barry County School for Boys. He was outstandingly academically gifted and won two scholarships. At the age of seventeen, a Glamorgan County Scholarship enabled him to study geology and the church organ at Cardiff University for a year, between 1931 and 1932. Straight after that, a State Scholarship allowed him to attend the University of Cambridge, where he studied archaeology, specialising in the European Neolithic period. He graduated with a First Class Honours Degree with Distinction. He earned his Ph.D. in 1938 and became a Fellow of St John's College, Cambridge from that time until his death in 1986.
The Second World War interrupted Daniel's academic life. From 1940, he worked as an Intelligence Officer for the R.A.F., using his experience in interpreting archaeological sites to interpret aerial photographs of the enemy's territory. From 1942-45 he was in charge of Photo Interpretation for India and South-East Asia.
After the War Daniel returned to academic life at St John's, Cambridge. From 1955-86 he was the editor of Ancient Peoples and Places and from 1958-86 editor of the journal Antiquities. Daniel also appeared regularly on television, frequently hosting the game show Animal, Vegetable or Mineral? It is interesting that a frequent guest on this show was Sir Mortimer Wheeler, an even better known archaeologist than Daniel, who was also interested in making archaeology more accessible to the general public. In 1955 Daniel won the award T.V. Personality of the Year. From 1959-81 he was the Director of Anglia Television Ltd. He was also Director of the Cambridge Arts' Theatre.
A great many of Daniel's tastes were revealed when he appeared on Desert Island Discs in 1981. All the music he chose was classical and his ultimate choice was by Bach; his chosen book (apart from the Bible and Shakespeare) was Brewer's Book of Fact and Fable; his chosen luxury was wine. He also loved food and travel, and combined the two when he wrote the guide book The Hungry Archaeologist in France (1963.)
All of his post-war life, Daniel remained an active academic. He was the Disney Professor of Archaeology from 1974 to 1981 and throughout his life published a number of academic books, such as The Idea of Prehistory (1961) and The Origins and Growth of Archaeology (1967.) One of Daniel's chief ambitions was to introduce the mysteries of archaeology to the general public.
The Cambridge Murders (1945) and Welcome Death (1954). Although the publication date is after the usual starting date for Golden Age Mystery Writers, Daniel's novels are commonly accepted as Golden Age mysteries because the first one, The Cambridge Mysteries (1945) is set before the War and the entire tone and style of writing is that of the Golden Age. Originally The Cambridge Murders was published under the psuedonym Dilwyn Rees, but in 1965 it was published under Glyn Daniel's own name, as was Welcome Death in
The central character of both books is Sir Richard Cherrington, Vice-President of Fisher College, Cambridge. Like many other distinguished Golden Age authors, Daniel created a fictional College to host his crime. In the first page he gives a detailed description of the lay-out of Fisher College, starting with the information that it 'lies between Trinity and St. John's.' Cherrington is an eminent archaeologist, a bachelor devoted to good wine, good food, good music and travel. It is clear that Daniel was obeying the dictum 'write what you know,' and Richard Cherrington is based upon himself in all but appearance. Having said that, Daniel's sense of humour is evident in the creation of the character and Cherriton is a well-developed protagonist; self-indulgent and rather over-confident of his abilities as a detective, but hard-working and honourable, determined to preserve the reputation of his College and aware of his responsibilities to protect the young undergraduates in his care.
The first time we are introduced to Cherrington is on the day before the Long Vacation, when he comes to visit his nephew, Giles, an undergraduate at Fisher College. '”Come in,” said Giles and the door opened slightly, and a head with a shock of steel-grey hair, and a long, lined face with a pair of black horn-rimmed pince-nez on the end of a thick, black ribbon, put itself round the door.'....'The door opened further, and the whole body followed the head into the room. It was a tall body, dressed in a rough, tweed jacket over a faded yellow cardigan waistcoat and grey flannel trousers. All these were partly hidden in a Doctor's silk gown.'
Cherrington used to pride himself on knowing everyone in College but, although he still prides himself on his visual memory, now he cannot always put names to faces and throughout the book it becomes clear his memory is not quite as good as he thinks it is. '”It's my job in a kind of way. I'm an archaeologist, you know. It puts a premium on visual memory. As one gets older one's mind is just full of images of pots and paintings and details of decorations and tomb-plans and so forth.”'
It is clear that Daniel has a lot of fun gently mocking the general perception of archaeologists and the way the archaeologists themselves play up to these stereotypes. '”It's your jacket,” said Cherrington. “I'm rather a connoisseur of tweeds myself. As a matter of fact the archaeologist is supposed to go about in loose-fitting tweeds as he paces the countryside looking for ditches and barrows and so forth.”'
Daniel is equally sardonic regarding his own ambition to introduce archaeology to the general public, which, along with many of his other interests, he has transferred to Cherrington.
'”The real power in the College is the Vice-President, Sir Richard Cherrington.”“Ah, yes,” said Robertson-Macdonald. “The archaeologist?”
“You know him?”
“Know of him. Read one or two of his books, allegedly written for the public in a popular style. Damned dry, but quite interesting if you plough through them.”'
Cherrington is fascinated by crime and mysteries and when a College porter is shot and the unpopular Dean of the College disappears, he is convinced that his archaeological deductive methods can solve the mystery before the police can crack the case. However he soon begins to wonder if he has taken on more than he bargained for and his enjoyment of the academic exercise is swamped by concern for the people involved and the reputation of his College and above all by revulsion at the violence involved.
Perhaps one of the most amusing and skilful aspects of the whole mystery is that as Cherrington pursues his investigation, sometimes discovering valuable clues and quite often confusing matters for everyone concerned, he is totally oblivious to the fact that the Scotland Yard detective regards him as one of the most probable suspects.
Although it was published in 1945, The Cambridge Murders was set just before the Second World War. Welcome Death, published in 1954, was set at the end of the War. In Welcome Death, Daniel reached further back into his past and situated his murder in Llanddewi, a rural village in the Vale of Glamorgan.
From early childhood Daniel had lived in just such a village, until he left to attend University. The Vale of Glamorgan is the most fertile part of South Wales and has excellent farming land, however the villages are made up of small, close-knit communities and, in the 1940s, most of the inhabitants were poor and hard-working. By placing Cherrington's aunt as an inhabitant of the Vale of Glamorgan, Daniel ensured that Cherrington had also been inspired by the cliffs containing Jurassic ammonites, as Daniel himself had been.
The villagers of Llanddewi are planning a celebration to greet their young men who have been serving in the army. However this is an occasion of grief as well as joy in the close-knit community; not only has one young man died whilst in the R.A.F., but also a young woman of the village has died following a botched, illegal abortion. She was the sister of one returning soldier and the sweetheart of another, and Evan Morgan, the man who seduced her, is many years her senior. To make matters worse he is a war profiteer who made a fortune while the young men were fighting and dying for their country, and he now intends to marry another young woman from the village. Between the returning soldiers, grieving families, Morgan's rejected mistress and his family who fear disinheritance, it is not surprising that Morgan should be murdered. Richard Cherrington, summoned by his aunt to investigate a spate of poison-pen letters, is greeted by a large number of suspects, an equally immense selection of motives and a complex, theatrically staged murder scene.
Cherrington is as cultured and charming as ever, but Welcome Death has a darker tone than The Cambridge Murders, as if it is shaded by the recent War. Daniel magnificently portrays a small community, closed in on itself and poisoned by malicious anonymous letters and festering grief. He also shows with great skill the changes wrought in a generation of young men who have learned to kill. '”We've got to get used to that fact – the fact that killing a man who has done no evil in the heat of battle is one thing, and a good thing, but that killing a man here in Llanddewi – an evil man who has done endless harm – killing here in a calculated manner is murder.”David said nothing for a while. Then he spoke quietly. “Yet he deserves it,” he said, “if he murdered Daphne.”
One of the messages in Welcome Death is the sheer futility of war and the sordidness of the deaths of the victims of war. The young man from the village who died had survived many tours of service only to be crushed by an over-turned truck driven by a drunk. 'Wing Commander Nigel Thomas, D.S.O., D.F.C., killed in an accident while on active service.' The young girl, Daphne Davis, is dead of infection after a bungled abortion carried out by her lover's middle-aged mistress.
Basically both The Cambridge Murders and Welcome Death are what the Sunday Times described as 'An excellent and complicated intellectual puzzle,' with a clever, cultured but fallible central protagonist. The books were out of print for some years but are now available again from Back-in-Print Books Ltd. They are enjoyable reads that give a fascinating insight to their period.
Carol Westron is a successful author and a Creative Writing teacher. Her crime novels are set both in contemporary
times. Her first book The Terminal
Velocity of Cats was published in 2013. Since then, she has since written 5 further mysteries. Carol recently
gave an interview to Mystery People. To read the interview click on the link
To read a review of Carol latest book This Game of Ghosts click on the title.