Serpents in Eden is another excellent entry in the British Library Crime Classic series. Collecting short stories from around a fifty year time span, the book demonstrates what a perfect place the country is for crime. Set in the British countryside, the stories are by such familiar luminaries as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and G.K. Chesterton as well as formerly popular but now almost forgotten authors like H.C. Bailey, Anthony Berkeley, and R. Austin Freeman. What the collection does, collectively, is remind readers how elegantly constructed a mystery can be. There is not a one of these that is not a sleek, honed work of art.
It also brings to light new old stories: Without a collection like this, it is unlikely most readers would ever see “The Naturalist at Law” by R. Austin Freeman, and that would be a crying shame. The story makes great use of misdirection, small clues, and its country setting. In fact, I’d challenge anyone to find a more country story than this. “The Genuine Tabard” by E.C. Bentley is not only little known but entirely British; even after the solution is explained to the American tourists, it is hard for an outsider to grasp. Even the better-known detectives are well-served by this collection. G.K. Chesterton is well known, but “The Fad of the Fisherman” is very little collected and it makes solid use of the company of many-motives and an intelligent, sharp-eyed sleuth very different from Father Brown. “A Proper Mystery” by Margery Allingham has never been collected before, and it looks with a mix of humor and affection at the effect a seemingly minor crime can have on a community. The other stories are similarly well-chosen examples of the theme.
Serpents in Eden gives readers a chance to revel in good, old-fashioned, puzzle mysteries and the myriad ways they are told. It’s a perfect book for mystery aficionados to take with them on a vacation or to curl up with on a weekend.