Tuesday, December 8, 2009

C.H.B. Kitchin, Crime at Christmas

I read with some interest on Mysteries in Paradise blog a mention of a crime novel by namesake, C.H.B. Kitchin, who published a number of books in the first half of the twentieth century. Kitchin is the 5816th most common surname in the UK according to the National Trust Name mapper, so its not that often that I come across the work of other members of the clan. I've been trying to get a copy of Crime at Christmas (first published in 1934, and reissued this year) ordered through a local bookshop in time for the xmas break, but I've had no luck so far as it's sold out in Ireland. Rather than resort to an online retailer I'm going to have a search for it on a trip later this week to Exeter, London and Oxford (it'll be an excuse for a good browse).

C. H. B. Kitchin was born in Harrogate 1895. He read classics at Oxford (Exeter College) and, after serving in France during World War I (1916-1918), worked at the stock exchange before being called to the bar in 1924. He led a varied and colourful life, born into wealth which he increased after inheriting in the mid-1920s through shrewd stock market investment. On inheritance he moved to Brighton to become a full-time writer. He published 13 novels (4 of them crime novels) and one collection of short stories. He died in 1967.

Kitchin's approach to crime fiction is revealed a little by Warren, the detective in his crime novels, when he tells the reader in a Crime at Christmas, "A detective story is always something of an étude de moeurs--a study in the behaviour of normal people in abnormal circumstances.... You want the revolver shot, the blood-stained knife, the mutilated corpse--but largely because they bring out the prettiness of the chintz in the drawing-room and the softness of the grass on the Vicarage lawn." The detective story, Warren continues, provides one with "a narrow but intensive view of ordinary life, the steady flow of which is felt more keenly through the very violence of its interruption." (from the Dictionary of Literary Biography, which I managed to get partial access to at Bookrags).

Faber have reissued six of his novels - Crime at Christmas, The Auction Sale, The Secret River, Streamers Waving, Death of my Aunt, and Mr Balcony.


Philip Amos said...

Ah, 'twas I who mentioned Kitchin's book on FF when Kerrie appealed for Christmas titles, Rob. I could not write those few words without thinking of another Kitchin, my good friend Laurence. There is a crime fiction connection even here, though on screen. Laurence was an actor in the 30s and 40s, stage and screen, and then a screenwriter, the latter including some contribution to Kind Hearts and Coronets, indeed. He made fine translations of Renaissance sonnets from French, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese, but thereafter he was known chiefly as a most distinguished drama critic in the London qualities, in his books Mid-Century Drama and Drama in the Sixties, and various essays and chapters passim, chiefly on modern drama and Shakespeare. But one of his books might interest you particularly if you can find it. Laurence broadcast a good deal on the BBC Third Programme in one mode or other, and he wrote for it three 'Trials' -- of Byron, Bowdler and Machiavelli, the intent of each being to determine whether these three were, and continued to be, deserving of their rather seamy reputations. Brilliant and ingenious stuff, and happily collected and published in Three on Trial: An Experiment in Biography, published by Pall Mall Press, 1959, with nice line drawings by Arthur Horner. The book has a rather splendid preface which gives some sense of Laurence's striking character also. And I'll just add that if you look at the entry for Agatha Christie's Unexpected Guest on Wikipedia, there is therein a quotation from Laurence's succint review. I wonder if there are enough authorial Kitchins for you to make a collection, Rob.

Kerrie said...

Rob you can add this to Suggest a Christmas Title if you like, and then next week you'll be able to use it in the Crime Fiction Alphabet for the letter K :-)

Rob Kitchin said...

Thanks, Philip. Lots to go and explore there! I'll also have a bit of a scout round to see if I can make a collection of authorial Kitchins. It should be doable given I suspect there are very few.

Kerrie, I think this post constitutes letter K as this was the sum total of what I could find out about him! Perhaps I need to try a little harder on the biographical research.