Review: The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books by Martin Edwards (2017)

story classic crime

My Rating: 5 stars                                          Read: 3/16/2017

Release Date: Aug 1, 2017

Blurb:

This book tells the story of crime fiction published during the first half of the twentieth century. The diversity of this much-loved genre is breathtaking, and so much greater than many critics have suggested. To illustrate this, the leading expert on classic crime discusses one hundred books ranging from The Hound of the Baskervilles to Strangers on a Train which highlight the entertaining plots, the literary achievements, and the social significance of vintage crime fiction. This book serves as a companion to the acclaimed British Library Crime Classics series but it tells a very diverse story. 

It presents the development of crime fiction-from Sherlock Holmes to the end of the golden age-in an accessible, informative and engaging style. Readers who enjoy classic crime will make fascinating discoveries and learn about forgotten gems as well as bestselling authors. Even the most widely read connoisseurs will find books (and trivia) with which they are unfamiliar-as well as unexpected choices to debate. Classic crime is a richly varied and deeply pleasurable genre that is enjoying a world-wide renaissance as dozens of neglected novels and stories are resurrected for modern readers to enjoy. The overriding aim of this book is to provide a launch point that enables readers to embark on their own voyages of discovery.

Review:

I received an ARC of this book for review. I’m going to go ahead and review it early, because it is available for pre-order, and if you’re anything like me, you’ll want to get a copy ASAP.

I love book lists, especially well thought-out published lists like this one from experts in the field. It’s like having your own personal guru in a genre give you recommendations. And God knows, in this age when all the online sites are rife with very opinionated, inexpert reviews, we need an educated guide now more than ever.

I love classic mysteries and thrillers and have read my share. But I enjoy finding those hidden gems that weren’t written by the top 3-4 authors in the genre (long may they reign).  I have examined the “Top 100 mystery books” lists from the Crime Writer’s Association and the Mystery Writer’s of America. Though I have not read all the books, I am familiar with the titles. What I like about this new book is that there are a number of titles on it that I’ve never heard of, and they look quite intriguing.

The author takes an interesting approach of talking about  the development of mystery novels over time and using specific recommended volumes as examples. This offers a context and backstory to the books that make them much more interesting. For example, “The Four Just Men” by Edgar Wallace, published in 1905, was written with a marketing gimmick–that the public be invited to help solve the crime. Wallace published the story himself and offered a cash reward of 500 pounds to readers who could deduce the solution. Unfortunately, the book sold like hot cakes, and so many people guessed the solution that the author nearly ruined himself paying them off! But this idea of “challenging the reader” to guess the solution was a popular theme of the mystery novels that immediately followed–minus the cash prize, of course.

This is the sort of background I love to read about, and it helps me understand and appreciate the mystery genre even more.  Beyond the value of these tidbits of history, the books Edwards discusses are new to me and quite interesting. I’ve already placed a half dozen of them on my “must be read soon” list.

For example, “Tracks in the Snow” by Godfrey R. Benson (1906), is a cozy British village mystery in which someone is accused of murder based on misleading footprints in the snow. I love village mysteries, where the few handful of local characters everyone has known all their lives are suddenly suspect because one of them is a killer.  Edwards also gives a brief bio of the authors, which helps establish his or her bone fides. In this case, Benson was a philosophy professor at Balliol who later became an MP, Mayor, and peer. To me, it makes the book much more interesting knowing what sort of person wrote it and wondering about his view of life. Now I’m really curious to read it.

This analysis runs through 100 titles from “Hounds of the Baskervilles” (1902) to “The 31st of February” by Julian Symons (1950). Some of the books were familar to me such as “Strangers on a Train” by Patricia Highsmith and “The Murder at the Vicarage” by Agatha Christie. But by far the majority of these titles are new to me.  There’s something about vintage mystery that makes me feel all cozy and happy and that feeling can’t be matched by recent titles. I’m thrilled to have a whole new stash to dig into thanks to Martin Edwards.

This book is a wonderful treasure map. If you love the mystery genre like i do, or even if you just dabble in it occasionally, you will want to take advantage of Mr. Edward’s thoughtful insight and directions. Highly recommended.

As a bonus, the book introduced me to the British Library of Classic Crime published by Poisoned Pen (here’s a link). These are new editions of some of these older gems that have long been out of print, all with gorgeous themed covers. I’m so glad they are bringing back these books, in ebook form especially since I’m addicted to my ipad. Thank you Poisoned Pen!

Books Links:

Goodreads

Amazon – Now available for pre-order

British Library of Classic Crime

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