Monday, June 27, 2022

THE LIFE OF CRIME: Guest Post by Martin Edwards

Martin Edwards: 
The Life of Crime 

Fifty years have passed since the late Julian Symons published his magisterial history of crime fiction, Bloody Murder (known in the US as Mortal Consequences). During the intervening half-century, innumerable books have been published about different aspects of crime fiction. Many of these are splendid, and there are some scholarly works and encyclopedias that are invaluable resources. Yet as far as I know, nobody has attempted to write a single volume narrative history of mystery for the general reader that traces the genre’s evolution from Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘The Murders in the Rue Morgue’ (or even earlier works) to the twenty-first century.

Now that I’ve had a crack at emulating Symons’ feat, I can guess why it hasn’t been done before! My publishers, HarperCollins, have been extremely generous, and I’ve been allowed a quarter of million words to tell the story of The Life of Crime. But even with that amount of space, I found I needed to be highly selective. This is especially the case because, unlike Symons, I wanted to say something about films, plays, TV, and true crime, as well as novels and short stories. Again unlike Symons, I also wanted to glance at the lives of some of the key authors, in so far as their personal experiences had a bearing on what they wrote.

I’ve had a project of this sort in mind for many, many years. However, I’ve only been working on it in depth for about the past six years. Again, I’m grateful to my publishers for their patience - and for their support, which manifested itself in many different ways. It was clear that, with such a wide-ranging work, the indexes would be extremely important, and so retaining the services of a first-rate professional indexer were essential. The indexer told me that he spent one hundred hours on the task. Which gives you an idea of the scale of the undertaking.

This is very much a personal ‘take’ on the genre’s development, with all the limitations that implies. Because I was tackling such a vast amount of material, however, I asked a dozen or so friends and experts on the genre (from a number of different countries) to comment on the manuscript, or on parts of it within their fields of interest, and their input was equally generous and positive. Their advice – even if I didn’t always follow it! – definitely made The Life of Crime a better book.

Each chapter begins with a vignette concerning the life of a particular author before proceeding to explore a topic connected, in one way or another, with that author’s contribution to the crime genre. The precise way I do this varies from chapter to chapter, since – as when writing my novels – I was determined to avoid a formulaic approach. I also wanted to focus on some authors who were not just ‘the usual suspects’. 

So yes, there are chapters which kick off with glimpses into the lives of Poe, Doyle, Christie, Chandler, Woolrich, and so on – right up to P.D. James. But there are others which start with less obvious figures, including the brothers Patrick and Bruce Hamilton, Nicolas Freeling, and William Lindsay Gresham, the author of Nightmare Alley. The overall result, I hope, is a book that traverses the ground in a fresh way that will encourage crime fans to think further about the books they love. 

Finally, I’ve focused on the connections, often rather improbable, between writers from different places and backgrounds and those who wrote in very different styles and sub-genres. This reflects my belief that the things that connect us in life are more important than the superficial differences that divide us. And I hope that The Life of Crime will introduce even the most seasoned and widely-read aficionados to some stories and writers they may not have considered until now - and afford them unexpected pleasure as a result. 

Martin Edwards received the CWA Diamond Dagger, the highest honour in UK crime writing, and his other awards include an Edgar and two Macavitys. He is the author of twenty-one novels, including The Girl They All Forgot, his latest Lake District Cold Case Mystery. His other books include The Life of Crime, a ground-breaking history of the genre.’ 



Elizabeth Varadan, Author said...

How do I follow your blog on Blogger?

Janet Rudolph said...

Hi, Elizabeth, there's a subscription Lin on the right side: Subscribe via email.. Hope that works.. Let me know it if doesn't. Thanks