Classic crime writers made habitual use of pseudonyms. A comprehensive list of pen names would be an impossible task, but a quick tally from Barzun & Taylor’s A Catalogue of Crime (1971) revealed over ninety writers who wrote under a different name. Some had multiple noms de plume and some authors wrote together under one name. Some chose names close to their own; others applied creativity to their alter ego. A sampling reveals a leaning towards short surnames: Michael Arlen (Dikran Kuyumjian), Nicholas Blake (Cecil Day-Lewis), Francis Beeding (John Leslie Palmer and Hilary St George Saunders), Leo Bruce (Rupert Croft-Cooke), Edmund Crispin (Robert Bruce Montgomery), Clemence Dane (Winifred Ashton and Helen Simpson), Francis Iles (Anthony Berkeley Cox), Neil Gordon (Archibald Gordon MacDonnell), Hampton Stone (George Bagby).

The rationale for a pseudonym was varied. Some authors used pen names to protect their non-literary careers. Others wrote in other fields and used a pseudonym for their crime writing as a way to protect their more literary publications. J.I.M Stewart was well known for his works of literary criticism and contemporary novels, and equally popular as crime novelist Michael Innes. Some women adopted male pen names (Anthony Gilbert was the pseudonym of Lucy Beatrice Malleson) and some authors chose a deliberately androgenous moniker to avoid gender stereotyping. Eric Stanley Gardner wrote a series of crime novels partnering a large, tough female private detective with a small, subtle and ingenious male ex-lawyer. Already established, as the writer of the Perry Mason stories, he published the new series under the ambiguous A.A. Fair.

And some authors were simply so prolific that they exceeded the schedule of what publishers thought the market could bear. Cecil Street, aka John Rhode aka Miles Burton aka Cecil Waye, wrote 146 novels between 1925 and 1961 year period, averaging four books per year.