Tuesday, July 4, 2017

The Story of Classic Crime

I'm very pleased to be hosting a guest post today from Martin Edwards to celebrate the publication of 'The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books'. It's an excellent book (which I'm now equally pleased I didn't bring on holiday with me because my luggage is still 'Destination Unknown'). I will write more about it when I get home, but promise it's worth seeking out if you have even the most passing interest in classic crime.

In uncertain times, classic crime stories offer both escapism and entertainment. But the best of them give readers much more – interesting characters, thought-provoking moral dilemmas, fascinating description of period and place, as well as a good deal of high-calibre writing. Detective stories have often been under-valued – even some authors tended to be dismissive of their own work. But the striking success of the British Library’s series of Classic Crime reissues speaks for itself. Readers in this country and much further afield have discovered for themselves the pleasure of reading long-neglected authors such as John Bude and Raymond Postgate. And they keep coming back for more.

The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books is my second book about the crime genre. The Golden Age of Murder explored the Detection Club, founded in 1930, the people who were prime movers in the Club, the books they wrote, and the way the times in which they lived affected their lives and their work. It was a book for fans, rather than academics, and encouraged by its reception, I’ve again tried to give a fresh take on the genre’s history. This time, my aim is to show how crime fiction changed from the start of the twentieth century, when Sherlock Holmes tracked down The Hound of the Baskervilles, to the century’s mid-point, when in the aftermath of the Second World War, Julian Symons and Patricia Highsmith set about taking the genre in a new direction.

Part of the fun of this type of book, both for me as writer, and (I hope) for you as readers comes from unexpected twists –just like the mysteries I examine in the text. So my selection of 100 books contains not just the usual suspects, ranging from The Hound of the Baskervilles to The Poisoned Chocolates Case, The Murder at the Vicarage, and Smallbone Deceased, but also some titles that aren’t likely to have crossed most people’s minds. The Division Bell Mystery by Ellen Wilkinson, and Death on the Down Beat by Sebastian Farr, for instance. There are a few quirky choices which may provoke surprise, and also give a different perspective on the subject from any that can be found elsewhere. And as well as the hundred in-depth discussions, there are references to about another six hundred books, many of which are little-known but well worth seeking out. You may be relieved to learn that there’s an index of titles, as well as of authors!

When I first proposed this project to the British Library, I envisaged a manuscript of about 60,000 words. But the more I worked on the book, the more it grew in scale. I like to think this isn’t due to verbosity on my part, but because I found so many fascinating books and snippets of information to weave into the narrative. My previous book about the genre, The Golden Age of Murder, was a labour of love ten years in the making. This one didn’t take quite as long to write, but I found it just as much fun. And I hope you will too.

Thanks, Hayley, 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


  1. I've read several from the series. A slower pace, but very descriptive.

    1. Yes, and increasingly often I really want that slower pace. It's a really god series in so many ways.

  2. Annabel Gaskell has left a new comment on your post "The Story of Classic Crime":

    I'm definitely interested in this book, I'm sure that each of the 100 he picks will be worth exploring.

    1. I think he mentions 600-700 titles, so there's a LOT to explore :)