The Life Of Crime (2022) by Martin Edwards

Crime Fiction has been around since… well, the Adam and Eve story featured an apple theft (a crime that seems less popular in fiction these days). Who in their right mind would try and write a history of all the genre, from the late eighteenth century right up to the present day, give or take a year or three? Step forward Martin Edwards…

Martin has read crime fiction for most of his life and has blended together both the history behind the content of the books in the genre and the history of the writers. He traces the development of the genre and its many, many sub-genres across the centuries, showing the influences of previous writers and real-world events on the authors that followed them. But can a history of such a massive and broad category ever be written as a coherent narrative?

Sorry, always like to finish my “blurb” on a cliff-hanger. Of course it can, this is Martin Edwards we’re talking about.

Right, let’s get the important bit out of the way first. Every reader will always jump to the index to see if their favourite author gets a mention, so Flood, Helen; Flower, Pat; Flynn, Brian. Yes! Well done, Martin. Admittedly, it’s only two footnotes, but he’s there. And now I know why Martin was interested when I told him that The Edge Of Terror was a serial-killer story…

Martin, if you recall, is the writer of The Golden Age Of Murder, a book that focussed on The Detection Club, and he brings the same blend of anecdote and fact to this book. It’s a daunting task, writing a history of a genre that is so diverse that each branch of it is significantly different from the next one – and there are a lot of branches to compare. Somehow, Martin has produced a book that can live on the coffee table (or next to the toilet, your choice) for dipping into or can be read cover-to-cover. It’s an impressive feat.

Running to over 600 pages (and another 100 of references) this is a book you can indulge in. I had to tear through it to get it read in time for the blog tour (I did stupidly ask for an early slot, didn’t I?) so I skipped a lot of the footnotes. At some point, I’ll be going back to it and perusing the book in a lot more detail.

Despite the page count, there will always be those who feel that their favourite genre is overlooked – personally, I would have liked to have seen a bit more on Historical Mysteries. As it’s a book on the history of the genre rather than the quality, naturally Ellis Peters gets a mention, but all of my favourites, alas no. In fact, I could rattle off a number of authors who don’t get a mention overall – anyone could – but that’s not an issue, and shouldn’t be for anyone. Such an encompassing work can never cover every single crime writer and Martin’s choices here make a lot of sense.

One choice that I wasn’t clear on is the use of the Francis Iles pseudonym at one point, talking about Iles’ beliefs. Martin explains in the introduction that with multiple pseudonyms, he chose the most appropriate for that section, but it came off as a little odd to me. So that’s one paragraph that I can moan about. But a couple of paragraphs in a 700 page an utterly engrossing study of the history of my favourite reading genre? Almost seems appropriate, given that no one can be a fan of every single aspect of the genre. Apart, of course, from Martin Edwards.

The Life Of Crime was released yesterday by the Collins Crime Club. This is the third stop on the blog tour – do check out the others when they go live.

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