THE STORY OF CLASSIC CRIME IN 100 BOOKS – guest post by Martin Edwards

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Martin Edwards is a pretty amazing chap. A busy blogger (Do You Write Under Your Own Name?), a lawyer by trade, a fine and prolific mystery author, he is also the consulting editor for the bestselling range of vintage mystery reprints from the British Library (and he writes the intros too).  He is also Chair of the Crime Writers’ Association and in 2015 was elected eighth President of the Detection Club. He is also Archivist of the CWA and of the Detection Club.

Now he has a new book out, one that tries to paint a picture of the Golden Age of detective fiction through its best books. Over to you Martin:

Long-forgotten detective stories from the “Golden Age of murder” between the world wars are being discovered all over again. A new generation of readers is now sharing the pleasure I’ve long taken in these entertaining mysteries of the past. And this is all the more pleasing because so many of these books have been under-estimated for so long. Many of them haven’t even managed to be under-estimated – because they have been out of print for around three-quarters of a century.

The British Library’s highly popular Crime Classics series has introduced today’s crime fans to neglected authors who were once big names – like Anthony Berkeley and Freeman Wills Crofts – and those who, for all their consummate professionalism, were never best-sellers – such as John Bude and Miles Burton. Bude has become a real readers’ favourite – five of his books have now reappeared, with two more in the pipeline. And now plenty of other publishers are following suit, bringing back authors as diverse as Sir Basil Thomson, once a kingpin of Scotland Yard, and former naval commander Peter Drax.

Of course, nostalgia plays a part in this revival. And the gorgeous period artwork of the British Library paperback covers has led many people to collect the whole set. But there’s much more to it than fascination with the past and high production values. The fundamental appeal of Golden Age detective fiction is that the leading authors knew how to tell a good story. And story-telling has an appeal as powerful as it is timeless.

These books tell us a great deal about life during the Twenties and Thirties, even though the authors aimed primarily to entertain. Read Antidote to Venom by Crofts, for instance, and you’ll be presented with an interesting picture of life in a provincial zoo, as well as a tricky murder method, and an interesting moral at the heart of the story. Christopher St John Sprigg was a poet and a Marxist, but his playful Death of an Airman offers a glimpse of the workings of a small Thirties airfield that is not only authentic (Sprigg was an expert on aeronautics) but also highly engaging. A visiting bishop from Australia does the detective work – you don’t find too many sleuthing bishops nowadays!

Sprigg’s book illustrates the truth that the best Golden Age writers were much more skilled at evoking character and setting than is often thought. But of course, for many Golden Age writers, the plot was the thing. And what plots they supplied! A personal favourite is The Poisoned Chocolates Case by Anthony Berkeley, a writer Agatha Christie much admired. Berkeley’s witty and highly ingenious mystery offers no fewer than six different solutions to a baffling whodunit puzzle.

Death of an Airman and The Poisoned Chocolates Case are just two of the novels discussed in my latest book, The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books. I’ve explored the evolution of the crime genre during the first half of the twentieth century, taking in along the way a host of acknowledged masterpieces, but also quite a few books that may seem like counter-intuitive choices. I like to think that I’m offering much more than a mere list, more even than a conventional account of the genre’s development. I’ve tried to tell a story that not only informs but also entertains.

Sergio, many thanks for hosting this guest post. Over the course of the next few days, I’ll be travelling around the blogosphere, talking about different aspects of the book, and of classic crime. Here’s a list of all the stops on my blog tour:

Wed 28 June – Lesa’ Book Critiques – https://lesasbookcritiques.blogspot.com

Thurs 29 June – The Rap Sheet – http://therapsheet.blogspot.com

Fri 30 June – Pretty Sinister Books – http://prettysinister.blogspot.com

Sat 1 Jul – Confessions of a Mystery Novelist (interview) – https://margotkinberg.wordpress.com

Sun 2 Jul –Eurocrime – http://eurocrime.blogspot.co.uk

Mon 3 Jul – Tipping My Fedora – https://bloodymurder.wordpress.com

Tue 4 Jul – Desperate Reader – http://desperatereader.blogspot.co.uk

Wed 5 Jul –Clothes in Books – http://clothesinbooks.blogspot.co.uk

Thu 6 Jul – Emma’s Bookish Corner – https://emmasbookishcorner.wordpress.com

Fri 7 Jul – Random Jottings – http://randomjottings.typepad.com

 

The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books is published in the UK on 7 July by the British Library, and in the US on 1 August by Poisoned Pen Press

Martin Edwards

 

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This entry was posted in Agatha Christie, Anthony Berkeley, Arthur Conan Doyle, Edgar Wallace, England, Julian Symons, Martin Edwards, Michael Gilbert, Patricia Highsmith, Sherlock Holmes. Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to THE STORY OF CLASSIC CRIME IN 100 BOOKS – guest post by Martin Edwards

  1. Colin says:

    The British Library editions are indeed very attractive and I’ve been picking titles I think might interest me on and off for a bit. I’m really enjoying this resurgence of GAD fiction – it’s certainly led me to discover some author’s I’d never heard of before.
    Anyway, well done, Martin, on your part in helping this process along and this new overview of detective writing looks like one I should try to pick up.

  2. Sounds marvellous! Martin definitely deserves all the kudos for this wonderful imprint – I’ve discovered some wonderful books!

  3. I’m so looking forward to reading this book….

  4. Sergio, thanks so much, both for hosting this post and for your kind words. I’ve been delighted by early reaction to the book, and I’m currently working on the new BL anthology Foreign Bodies, which we are quite excited about.

    • That sounds marvellou Martin – you will be glad to know that your MIRACULOUS MYSTERIES anthology is currently being read by my niece and her mother on holiday here in Umbria. 😀

  5. Very glad indeed! Thanks, Sergio.

  6. Sergio, thanks for hosting Martin. I have read just one novel of his, ALL THE LONELY PEOPLE (No.1 in the Harry Devlin series), and liked his writing a lot. THE STORY OF CLASSIC CRIME IN 100 BOOKS would be an outright inspiration for me to read Golden Age that I know so little of.

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