Crime writers as correspondents

In the age of email and social media, the art of letter writing is fast disappearing. This is a pity for several reasons, not least because there is a real fascination in reading (some) old letters, and there are certainly a number of crime writers of the past who were fascinating correspondents. Dorothy L. Sayers was a prime example, and a selection of her letters has been gathered together in a series of five chunky volumes. Raymond Chandler’s letters also provide many intriguing insights into his craft, and his opinions on countless subjects; again, a selection has been published. The correspondence of most writers of the past is, however, difficult to track down, which means I am all the more grateful for the kindness of Howard Lakin of Lakin and Marley Rare Books ( for providing me with this scan of a letter sent by Ngaio Marsh to James Keddie.

Keddie was a fan of crime fiction who corresponded with a number of novelists, including the New Zealander Ngaio Marsh. It’s interesting to trace, in the letters I’ve seen, the development of a friendship between the pair, as the formality of early correspondence gives way to a more relaxed and chatty discussion. This example sees Marsh saying she’s forgotten what the dust jacket of the first edition of Death in Ecstasy looked like. Such a lapse of memory may seem surprising, but sometimes book collectors like Keddie are more interested in details of a book of the past than the person who wrote it, and who has now moved on to other projects.