‘The strength of evidence is not in the separate links but in your ability to form a chain’ (S.R.Crockett, The Azure Hand)
A century ago today the First World War was in full swing. Crockett had been dead for some three years. These are but two of the contextual reasons why The Azure Hand was published with more of a whimper than a bang’ by Hodder & Stoughton.
Today, Ayton Publishing brings out a new centenary edition of this long out of print work, offering the reader the opportunity to draw their own conclusions and explore the mystery for themselves. There’s a number of ways to do this. One, of course, is to read the book.
You can order the paperback edition right now, with the click of a mouse HERE
for a mere £9.99 plus p&p
But if you want to ‘try before you buy’ you can read all about it
In a guest post on Martin Edwards (Crime Writers Association) blog HERE
and in the Alliance of Literary Societies 2017 Journal HERE
And perhaps you might like to consider the importance of context both in narrative and in publishing. Here's a wee bit of detective work undertaken regarding The Azure Hand's original publication:
Advertisements for the novel came out on Thursday 26th July in The Scotsman
Which stated: The Azure Hand S.R.Crockett’s last novel. A thrilling mystery story. Price 5 shillings.
And the The Globe which added that it was a Masterpiece of sustained mystery.
The reviews took a bit longer to come in.
Even The Bookman, which a decade ago was Crockett country, dragged its heels till September before offering a half-hearted review:
This is advertised as ‘S.R.Crockett’s Last Novel’ and it is very different from the fiction with which that author began his literary career. ‘The Azure Hand’ is a murder-tale. It opens with a murder, which leads to another, and is flanked by three love-stories which relieve the plot. The murder mystery is well contrived. It is somewhat drawn out, but that is inevitable in tales of this nature, and Mr Crockett knows how to beguile his readers with minor characters and their by-play, from Sue Sim, the housemaid, to Mrs. Hampden Jones, the wife of the Chief Constable. Perhaps more than English readers will wonder what Mrs Hampden Jones did when she ‘harcelled her daughters collectively and individually till they wished they were dead’; but if the last verb is obscure, the meaning is plain. There is plenty of love-making in the novel, a certain amount of humour and fun, some character-sketching which is interesting, and, over all, the enigma of the murders. The scene is set in the Lowlands of Scotland, but the tale is not aggressively Scotch. The main characters move in circles where local dialect is unknown, and for this and other reasons the tale is distinctly readable, even exciting. The detective is not too clever. The hero is not immaculate. All of which makes for freshness in the handling of a familiar theme.
And other papers struggled to know what to make of it.
The Northern Whig of 25th September 2017 seems perplexed that it isn’t like his earliest novels from some 20 years before, still they accept that ‘the book is full of cleverly drawn characters.’
How unusual is it that a writer’s work changes over a thirty year career? Is this something to damn him with?
The Scotsman on the 17th September 2017 writes:
We have a posthumous story from the pen of the late S.R.Crockett, which marks the gulf between its author’s earlier, and later work. The story is ingeniously constructed, and it has a number of exciting moments; but the atmosphere is that of the ordinary sensational romance, and does not even distantly recall the exquisite charm of ‘the Raiders.’
The plot is complicated enough and the secret is well kept, while the romantic interest is skilfully interwoven; but the style lacks the charm and distinction of Mr Crockett at his best.
We see here what was already and has remained ever since, the petard upon which Crockett was hoist – it’s not ‘The Raiders’
It’s risible to suggest a writer should have spent 30 years reworking the same story and blame him for not so doing. To find it impossible that a writer cannot write a variety of styles and genres says more about the reviewer than the writer surely? But Crockett was dead and the judges pronounce. And people remember him for nothing but ‘The Raiders’ which, while a fine book, is not by any means either the limit or the apogee of his creative talent.
The contemporary Globe review is just as puzzled as the others, claiming that:
Mr S.R.Crockett’s last novel The Azure Hand is a curious combination. In its main outline it is a mystery of two murders worked upon refined detective lines with a finesse which displays French influences… Involved in it is a double love story with the Galloway humour characteristic of the author practically run riot, so that the serious interest of a detective problem is practically submerged by an element which is almost farcical, with an effect which is certainly unusual.
We should remember that this book, written probably a decade before, was published in the context of the First World War with all the constraints and predilictions that involved. We should also always remember that publishing is a business.
Crockett’s widow had to press the publishers to bring the book into the public, and they had little incentive to ‘puff’ it. Few books have much of a shelf life and it’s neither a surprise nor a reflection on the book or the author that The Azure Hand silently sank without trace. It has long remained of value only to those who collect Crockett, and then only because it is very rare. While alive, his work was published in hundreds of thousands of copies, many of which can still be picked up for under £10.
But now, a century on, we hopefully have the maturity to look back from a different context and re-appraise. With this new edition the reader at least has the chance to do that. The introduction is written by Crockett scholar Cally Phillips, with an endorsement by Martin Edwards of the Crime Writers’ Association. The former knows her Crockett, the latter knows his detective fiction. Both rate the work. But it's up to you to do some detective work and draw your own conclusions.