cover image The Life of Crime: Detecting the History of Mysteries and Their Creators

The Life of Crime: Detecting the History of Mysteries and Their Creators

Martin Edwards. Collins Crime Club, $29.99 (800p) ISBN 978-0-00-819242-6

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 (Mary Shelley’s father), 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. (Aug.)