In the first major history of crime fiction in fifty years, The Life of Crime: Detecting the History of Mysteries and their Creators traces the evolution of the genre from the eighteenth century to the present, offering brand-new perspective on the world’s most popular form of fiction.
Author Martin Edwards is a multi-award-winning crime novelist, the President of the Detection Club, archivist of the Crime Writers’ Association and series consultant to the British Library’s highly successful series of crime classics, and therefore uniquely qualified to write this book. He has been a widely respected genre commentator for more than thirty years, winning the CWA Diamond Dagger for making a significant contribution to crime writing in 2020, when he also compiled and published Howdunit: A Masterclass in Crime Writing by Members of the Detection Club and the novel Mortmain Hall. His critically acclaimed The Golden Age of Murder (Collins Crime Club, 2015) was a landmark study of Detective Fiction between the wars.
The Life of Crime is the result of a lifetime of reading and enjoying all types of crime fiction, old and new, from around the world. In what will surely be regarded as his magnum opus, Martin Edwards has thrown himself undaunted into the breadth and complexity of the genre to write an authoritative – and readable – study of its development and evolution. With crime fiction being read more widely than ever around the world, and with individual authors increasingly the subject of extensive academic study, his expert distillation of more than two centuries of extraordinary books and authors – from the tales of E.T.A. Hoffmann to the novels of Patricia Cornwell – into one coherent history is an extraordinary feat and makes for compelling reading.
‘Magisterial but wickedly entertaining … reliably readable and frequently amusing. It also inspires awe: Edwards combines wide reading with a good memory, meticulous control over his unruly material, critical acumen and sheer bloody persistence.’ ANDREW TAYLOR, THE SPECTATOR
‘Impressively scholarly and joyfully anecdotal… it’s hard to imagine this book being superseded for many years to come.’ MORNING STAR
‘A magisterial history of mysteries and their creators.’ THE TIMES
REVIEWS FOR MARTIN EDWARDS:
‘Few, if any, books about crime fiction have provided so much information and insight so enthusiastically and, for the reader, so enjoyably’ THE TIMES
‘Illuminating and entertaining – provides a new way of looking at old favourites. I admire the way that Martin Edwards weaves the sometimes violent, sometimes unlawful, and always gripping true stories of these writers with the equally wild tales they tell in their books.’ LEN DEIGHTON, author of The Ipcress File
‘Forensically sharp and exhaustively informed… Crime fiction is driven by death. In this superbly compendious and entertaining book, Edwards ensures that dozens of authorial corpses are gloriously reborn.’ MARK LAWSON, Guardian
Edwards (The Golden Age of Murder), an archivist for the Crime Writers' Association, puts his expertise to good use in this magisterial history of crime fiction. The author traces the roots of crime fiction beyond where most scholars start; while he credits Edgar Allan Poe as the father of detective fiction, he identifies a lesser-known figure, William Godwin , as having written the "first thriller about a manhunt" with his 1794 novel Things as They Are. Each chapter opens with an anecdote from the life of a consequential author, putting their literary efforts in the context of their lives. For example, Marie Belloc Lowndes "used mysterious real-life crimes" among London's early 1900s social elite "as source material for her fiction," and Kinsey Millhone creator Sue Grafton had been fantasizing about murdering her husband before channeling that anger and hatred into a mystery novel. Edwards doesn't hesitate to criticize weaknesses even in works by prominent authors (Conan Doyle's A Study in Scarlet is "flawed," for example), and unlike other major studies of the genre, gives plenty of space to non-Anglo authors and writers of color. The result is an encyclopedic and consequential volume, a must-read for readers who've wondered who-, how-, or whydunit.