British novelist Martin Edwards serves as archivist for the Crime Writers Association and the Detection Club and won the 2016 Edgar in the best critical/biographical category for The Golden Age of Murder, which focused on mystery writing between the two world wars. He spoke with PW about his forthcoming The Life of Crime (Collins Crime Club, July), a chronicle of crime fiction from the 18th century to the present, and what the genre’s past has taught him about its future.

How would you describe your new book?

It’s a history, and it’s also a sort of detective story, investigating how the life experiences of crime authors impacted what they wrote. The book also presents a picture of the roller-coaster nature of the crime-writing life: Dorothy L. Sayers created the wealthy and aristocratic Lord Peter Wimsey when she was in dire financial straits and struggling with emotional turmoil, as a form of escapism from the tough realities she was experiencing. Agatha Christie’s marriage broke down, and she famously disappeared for 11 days, shortly after she’d published The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, one of the most famous whodunits of all time.

Having taken this long look back, where do you see the genre headed?

It’s never easy to look into the crystal ball. That said, we’re hearing a wider range of voices than ever before; I anticipate that will continue and encompass more voices the publishing industry has tended to overlook in the past, and from across the world. The quality of crime novels in Australia in recent years, for instance, has been very high, resulting in several Gold Daggers [the Crime Writers’ Association of the U.K.’s award for the best crime novel of the year]. It’s an exciting prospect.

Are certain subgenres more likely to grow?

One of the most appealing features of the genre is that authors have long shown a capacity to reinvent different forms of mystery. For instance, 80 years ago, leading critic Howard Haycraft thought the locked-room mystery was pretty much played out. Yet, in recent times, it’s enjoyed a remarkable renaissance. Predictions of the death of the spy novel after the end of the Cold War are proving to have been grossly exaggerated. Of course, the wheel of fashion continues to turn and you can never be sure what might happen, especially if a writer of real talent comes along and freshens up a particular type of writing.

You wrote in the introduction to this book, “I make no secret of my own opinions, but they continue to evolve.” How so?

In reading crime in translation, I’ve learned that, despite the undoubted differences in our life experiences, we have much more in common than I might have guessed when I was young. As an example, I’ve had the pleasure of visiting Shanghai and chatting to young people from a culture very unfamiliar to me about mystery games and classic British detective fiction. The fact that human beings have so much in common despite the superficial differences is a point worth keeping in mind by any crime writer. It explains, for instance, why Agatha Christie remains popular across the world. But it also shows us that, when writing or reading crime fiction, we’re interested in more than the power of story. Crime fiction isn’t simply about restoring order to a disrupted society; it’s about navigating life’s uncertainties and that is, I’d suggest, one of the ingredients of its appeal.

Return to Main Feature.