The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books (British Library Crime Classics) by Martin Edwards

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The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books (British Library Crime Classics) by Martin Edwards

Category: Reference
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: A look at crime fiction written in the first half of the twentieth century. Brilliantly researched but very accessible. Highly recommended.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 288 Date: July 2017
Publisher: British Library Publishing
ISBN: 978-0712356961

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It's easy to be confused by the various 'ages' of crime writing: if you've an interest in the genre you'll almost certainly have heard of the Golden Age of Crime, generally acknowledged as being the period between the first and second world wars. 'Classic Crime' on the other hand extends the time frame at either end and covers books published in the first half of the twentieth century. Throughout my adult life there's been just one genre of books which has fascinated me, and that's crime, so I could hardly resist the chance of reading The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books particularly as the author, Martin Edwards is an accomplished author within the crime genre and an acknowledged expert on the subject.

It's not a selection of the best books of the period: as Edwards says, the selection would have been different, but rather the 'story' of how the genre developed. And you shouldn't be misled by the title: whilst a hundred books are considered in detail (but without spoilers) many, many more are glanced upon and cited as influences. It's telling that the index of titles runs to ten pages and the index of authors to six. Edwards is a man who knows his classic crime and as you read you'll get a sense that he knows a great deal more than he's had space to tell us.

It would have been simple - but not very effective - to list the books in chronological order and tell us a bit about them, but we learn the story by themes, starting with A New Era Dawns. Names such as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Edgar Wallace and E W Hornung are obvious choices but I'd forgotten Baroness Orczy, Godfrey R Benson and Roy Horniman, whose Israel Rank you'd probably recognise as the inspiration for Kind Hearts and Coronets. E F Benson is probably better known for the Mapp and Lucia Stories but we have been impressed by The Luck of the Vails. Perhaps one of the books which has stood the test of time is The Innocence of Father Brown, not least because of the recent television adaptation (Which isn't very true to the original).

It's not long before we're into The Birth of the Golden Age. Trent's Last Case has been on my 'must read' list for far too long as this was one of the first books with a more complex plot. Most of the books from this period have not really stood the test of publishing time, but it was good to be reminded of A A Milne as other than the creator of Winnie-the-Pooh et Al. One we get into The Great Detectives the names are more familiar. Agatha Christie has two entries with Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple, Dorothy L Sayers has Lord Peter Wimsey and I was delighted to see The Mystery of a Butcher's Shop by Gladys Mitchell, but even more pleased to find Margery Allingham's Albert Campion making an appearance.

It was in this period that authors began to abide by 'the Detective Decalogue' which laid down a series of rules which made the 'contest' between author and reader rather more fair. It was no longer reasonable to withhold important pieces of evidence and divulge these just before the denouement. This was particularly important when we come on to Miraculous Murders - the locked room mysteries.

Crime writers often feature the idyllic British countryside in their plots, but Edwards points out that there are serpents in Eden and cites the work of John Bude whose books are all situated in marketable tourist destinations. I was pleased to be reminded here of Death Under Sail by C P Snow, which was the first crime novel I read, well over half a century ago. If the countryside is popular then this must be eclipsed by the manor house and here we feel that you really should have a look at Murder at the Manor: Country House Mysteries edited by Martin Edwards.

Capital Crimes looks at plots located in London, rather than those attracting the ultimate penalty, whilst Resorting to Murder looks at holiday destinations. In Education, Education, Education I was delighted to find Death at the President's Lodging by Michael Innes: tightly plotted as it is, the complete absence of female characters would be starkly obvious more than eighty years on from publication. Edwards goes on to cover a diverse selection of themes - you're bound to find something that's to your taste - with at least three books considered in some details in each chapter and many more which you might like to consider.

I read the book straight through - that's the curse of the book reviewer - but it was no hardship. It would be good to dip into though. I've gone back and reread sections which interested me or to be reminded of books of which I'm particularly fond. It's quite a while since I read The Franchise Affair by Josephine Tey and The Beast Must Die by Nicholas Blake: they'd make good holiday reading.

The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books is erudite, but accessible and never less than very readable. It's thought provoking too and I reappraised some books which I'd previously dismissed. I'd normally expect that a book like this would be read over a week or more, but I was surprised that I found myself succumbing to the 'just another chapter' syndrome and I read right through in little more than a couple of days. I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag: it's a book to return to often.

If you'd like to read more about Golden Age Crime then you really can't beat The Golden Age of Murder by Martin Edwards. For a more lightweight choice of 100 crime books, have a look at Crime & Mystery: The 100 Best Books by H R F Keating.

Buy The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books (British Library Crime Classics) by Martin Edwards at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books (British Library Crime Classics) by Martin Edwards at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books (British Library Crime Classics) by Martin Edwards at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books (British Library Crime Classics) by Martin Edwards at Amazon.com.


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