Thursday, June 29, 2017

Relishing Classic Crime’s New Vogue

(Editor’s note: The Rap Sheet is pleased to once again feature the work of Martin Edwards, an award-winning British novelist and the still newly installed chair of the Crime Writers’ Association. Stopping here early in a blog tour he’s put together to promote his latest non-fiction work, The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books, Edwards remarks below on how his once-unhip fascination with vintage mystery tales has finally paid off. The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books will be published in the UK on July 7 by the British Library, and in the United States on August 1 by Poisoned Pen Press.)

My crime novels are set, with one exception, in the present day, but I’ve been fascinated by classic detective fiction ever since I first came across Agatha Christie when I was just short of my ninth birthday. I borrowed my grandmother’s copy of The Murder at the Vicarage, and was hooked. As a fan, and also as a would-be writer, for even at that tender age, I dreamed of telling stories, stories of the type that I enjoyed. I especially liked detective shows on the television (one of my schoolbooks as a 6-year old contains a couple of sentences enthusing about “The Chrome Coffin,” apparently an episode of 77 Sunset Strip, which was running on British TV at the time).

It took me a long time to publish my first detective novel, but even longer to find a suitable outlet for my passion for Golden Age mysteries. That first book, All the Lonely People (1991), introduced the down-at-heel Liverpool lawyer Harry Devlin, and my aim was to write a series which combined a realistic urban backdrop and contemporary characters with plots that had much of the trickiness I associated with Christie and her peers. Not just “least likely person” culprits, but other tropes such as “dying message clues,” “impossible crimes,” and so on. The reviews were fine, and I was shortlisted every now and then for awards. The snag was that none of the kind reviewers noticed the Golden Age elements. Classic crime was really out of fashion.

When, more than a decade ago, I started writing a non-fiction book about the Golden Age, my then agent, a great supporter of my work, was dubious. She thought I shouldn’t allow myself to be distracted from my novels. But I kept on working at the manuscript, and after she retired, I persuaded the guy who took over the agency that there might be some potential in what would become The Golden Age of Murder (2015). What I didn’t expect was an Edgar Award, an Agatha, a Macavity, and very good sales as well as lovely reviews from all around the world. For pretty much the first time in my life, my tastes coincided with what was suddenly fashionable all over again.

I’m still, first and foremost, very much a novelist, but I felt there was much more to say about classic crime. Thankfully, the British Library agreed, and as a result I’ve composed The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books. This is a companion to the British Library’s series of Crime Classics, but it’s rather more than that. The aim is to explore the ways in which the genre developed over the first half of the last century.

(Left) Author Martin Edwards

Of course, the focus is on British books, but I’ve also squeezed in a sampling of American titles (as well as some from elsewhere in the world) to give the story an international context. It’s not an academic work, but an attempt to entertain as well as inform. And I hope that even the most widely read connoisseur will come across unfamiliar titles that seem well worth exploring. Reading or solving a mystery entails a voyage of discovery. And anyone who reads The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books will find that it takes them on a journey with plenty of unexpected ports of call.

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My thanks to Jeff Pierce for hosting this guest post in The Rap Sheet. Over the next few days, I’ll be traveling elsewhere around the blogosphere, talking about different aspects of this new book, and of classic crime. Here’s a list of all the stops on my blog tour:

Wednesday, June 28: Lesa’s Book Critiques
Thursday, June 29: The Rap Sheet
Friday, June 30: Pretty Sinister Books
Saturday, July 1: Confessions of a Mystery Novelist (interview)
Sunday, July 2: Euro Crime
Monday, July 3: Tipping My Fedora
Tuesday, July 4: Desperate Reader
Wednesday, July 5: Clothes in Books
Thursday, July 6: Emma’s Bookish Corner
Friday, July 7: Random Jottings

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