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The Life of Crime

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The Life of Crime Detecting the History of Mysteries and Their Creators by Martin Edwards

599 Pages
Publisher: Harper 360, Collins Crime Club
Release Date: August 16, 2022

Nonfiction, Biographies, Memoirs, Historical Events, Famous People Authors

The book is divided into the following parts.

Mystery and Imagination
Guilty Secrets
Detective Fever
Poacher Turned Gamekeeper
The Great Detective
Rogues’ Gallery
The Nature of Evil
Plot Minds
The Science of Detection
Ware and Peace
Treacherous Impulses
The Mistress of Deception
American Tragedy
Superfluous Women
Challenging the Reader
Locked Rooms
The Long Arm of the Law
Murder and its Motives
Twists of Fate
The Sound of Mystery
In Lonely Rooms
Brothers in Crime
Cracks in the Wall
Sensation in Court
California Dreaming
Carnival of Crime
Waking Nightmares
Dagger of the Mind
Whose Body?
Private Wounds
Out of this World
Perfect Murders
Mind Games
Deep Water
Forking Paths
Bloody Murder
People with Ghosts
Killing Jokes
Literary Agents
Outsider in Amsterdam
Black and Blue
Home Discomforts
Mystery Games
Early Graves
A Suitable Job for a Woman
A Feeling for Snow
Fatal Inversions
Dark Places
Long Shadows
A Taste for Death 

What can I say about this book? It is immense, well researched, and thorough. I learned so much about my favorite authors and found new authors I want to read. There seemed to be a common thread through their lives, sadness, and misfortune caused by drugs, alcohol, suicide, mental illness, etc. 

The author covers topics that I had not even considered as a crime or mystery novel. As always, I love anything about Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Maurice LeBlanc, George Simenon, and Patricia Highsmith. I thought it was interesting that several writers had similar ideas for books like Strangers on a Train. Also, the fact that Jim Thompson, an American writer, said he thought he would become famous ten years after his death. His prediction came true with his novel “The Grifters” which was made into a movie in 1990. If you are a mystery buff and/or enjoy biographies and memoirs, this is a definite must read for you.
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I find it hard to criticize this one. It certainly covers a lot of ground, and it provides lots of great analysis and examples of crime stories and authors. Recommended.

I really appreciate the free ARC for review!!
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This massive chronicle of crime fiction comes as close to being exhaustive as author Martin Edwards’ near-manic expertise and reading experience allow. In it, he covers hundreds of writers in 55 chapters organized topically (e.g., “The Mistress of Deception: Agatha Christie”; “Waking Nightmares: Noir Fiction”; and “In Lonely Rooms: Raymond Chandler”). Each concludes with a hefty block of fine-print notes that sweep up loose ends. And the whole package is capped with three indices (title, name, and subject) and 20 pages of “select” bibliography perfect for selective dipping and further reading.

Could the devout mystery fan wish for anything more? Well, perhaps…especially if she or he is seeking critical depth or insight into stylistic crosscurrents. The Life of Crime, which — face it — is essentially a biographical survey, has singular virtues and pesky drawbacks alike; ironically, they often coincide. The book powers forward like a human-wave assault, covering all the big names, but then draws the reader into a swarm of lesser lights, including the vaguely familiar and the near obscure.

No blame from this quarter, as that’s what Edwards clearly intended. But remember: You won’t find much substantive detail here, even among the biggies. If you want to dig deeper, you’ll have to follow the clues in Edwards’ excellent chapter endnotes and bibliography.

That said, The Life of Crime offers many compensating delights, and it amply satisfies the modern appetite for chatty anecdote and casual factoid. Each chapter kicks off with a compelling vignette or two, for instance:

+ In the real world, the vaunted “Ellery Queen” was a pair of collaborating cousins, one supplying the plot, the other shouldering the writing. But like a literary Martin and Lewis, the two couldn’t manage to get along, even amid the cascade of big bucks their teamwork produced.
+ In counterpoint to the above, contemporary American author Charles Todd happily teams with his uncredited mom on their Britain-set procedurals. And then there’s racetrack sleuth-smith Dick Francis, who gallantly deferred most of the actual writing to his wife, Mary. Until her death in 2000, that is, when — after a few years of respectful hesitation — their son Felix stepped into the breach. The winning streak continues, even after Francis père’s recent death.
+ In a bout of pillow talk with his wife, the playwright Lillian Hellman, Dashiell Hammett reputedly copped to a youthful murder he carried out while serving as a Pinkerton heavy on strike-breaker assignment. (Edwards calls B.S. on this vainglorious unburdening, or at least the killing part.)
+ Vera Caspary (who?), during a sweltering spell, took to writing naked at an open window in her city home. And, oh yes, she was also a communist. Figures.
+ You might contrast birthday-suit-Vera with Mary Katherine Green, dubbed by somebody or other “the mother of detective fiction.” In Edwards’ wondrously evocative phrasing, her early-20th-century storytelling was “as decorously Victorian as covered piano legs.”
+ Eleanor Roosevelt borrowed Miss Marple’s gumshoe cred in several whodunits penned by her son Elliott. And in a more prominent case of cashing in on a presidential name, Margaret Truman, Harry’s daughter, produced a raft of Washington-themed mysteries, some of which are still in print. But both Elliott and Margaret reputedly employed ghostwriters, snipes Edwards.
+ Alfred Hitchcock, no mystery writer himself but instantly alert to the adaptive potential of the genre, directed a brace of suspense classics based on novelistic thrillers, including “The Lady Vanishes,” “Strangers on a Train,” “Rear Window,” “Vertigo,” and “The Birds.”

Another instructive take-away from the book: The larger share of the creation, promotion, and audience appeal of suspense writing belongs to women authors. “Men dominated British crime fiction for the first three decades of the twentieth century,” writes Edwards. “From then on Christie, [Dorothy L.] Sayers, [Margery] Allingham and [Ngaio] Marsh took center stage. Even the most gifted male contemporaries…never quite matched their sales and reputations.”

Edwards is also appreciative of more recent women writers. Patricia Highsmith, E.P. James, and Ruth Rendell, among others, receive full-chapter treatment.

Yet there are blind spots, too, despite the broad scope of Edwards’ historical rundown. One particularly glaring lapse: There’s not a single word about Elmore Leonard! And James Lee Burke receives only passing mention. Irish writers notably fail to make much of an impression on our British host, either. Tana French, Benjamin Black (John Banville), and the emerging crop of Ulster crime writers garner scant, if any, coverage.

This latter lapse is regrettable and perhaps a little annoying, but it’s not a thrill-killer. Yes, we all have our favorites, and their omission from Edwards’ roll call rankles a bit. Even so, The Life of Crime — whether you read it through or shelve it for moments of curious interest — is worth investigating if you love crime fiction.
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I love the introductions written by this author for the golden age mysteries published by British Library Crime Classics, but they always leave me wanting more. This book, The Life of Crime, includes all the details and backstories I have been wanting on famous, and not so famous, mystery writers.

The Life of Crime is a witty and comprehensive look at every type of mystery from Sherlock to spies to American police fiction. It also spans the globe from Asia through Scandinavia. Each chapter is clearly labeled so the reader can find what interests them. There are also three indices, if needed.

What can I say that would adequately describe this epic 800-page book? None seem sufficient so I’ll just say that it is perfect for mystery fans and those interested in the writing craft. 5 stars and a favorite!

Thanks to Collins Crime Club and NetGalley for a digital review copy of the book.
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Fans of crime fiction will be thrilled to check out The Life of Crime. Martin Edwards explores the history of the crime fiction genre with his in-depth knowledge. The chapters are short and engaging. It is clear that a great deal of research and time went into this book. If you are a fan of the genre or need a resource on the mystery genre, this is the one for you. Be sure to check out The Life of Crime today!
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An absolute gem for fans of crime fiction. A recommended purchase for collections where the genre and writing craft titles are popular.
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In addition to being one of the world's foremost authorities on all things mystery—an effortlessly encyclopedic knowledge of the genre—Martin Edwards is also a wonderfully entertaining writer. The Life of Crime builds on both of these qualities: tremendously informative, wonderfully told. The short chapters are focused nicely on various aspects of the history of mystery—working forward through various themes, trends, and specific authors. As a teacher, I'm certain to keep this handy as a key resource, but as a reader as well, I'm just happy to be able to enjoy all that Edwards has to offer. A milestone book.
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The Life of Crime from Martin Edwards is that wonderful combination of a book you can enjoy reading as well as one you want to keep around for reference.

I think the main thing that will bring most readers to the book is the reference book aspect. Anyone who reads in any of the genres and subgenres under the broad umbrella covered here will want to know about what influenced their favorite genre or their favorite writer. This book certainly satisfies that desire, in short and engaging chapters that can be read quickly (including the notes, which you don't want to skip, they are often as interesting as the text).

For those who like the reference aspect but intend from the beginning to read the entire book, you will be very happy with how the book is written. The facts are interwoven with wonderful anecdotes all presented in concise chapters. This will reward either standard method for reading such a book. If you want to read it quickly the chapters offer many stopping points so you don't feel like you have to commit to an extremely long chapter if you just want to read for another few minutes. If you want to read this one or two chapters at a time (how I often read collections of short stories or essays) you can fit in a chapter in a relatively brief window of opportunity. By the way, for those who mostly want it for reference, I would suggest at least using this second method to work through the book, you might be surprised just how good this is as a read as well as a reference.

This is as comprehensive as I imagine a single volume can be. Substitutions might have been made, though I am certainly not qualified to say what could have been substituted for what, but simply adding more would have been a little redundant as far as explaining the history and definitely have made the book unwieldy. I think the decisions for inclusion are excellent and answered many of the questions I had and even more I didn't know I had.

In addition to the various styles and genres/subgenres, what most interested me was the inclusion of influence, both into and from the crime fiction. Whether what went into the earliest examples or how recent works have reached into other genres, the reader gets a truly big picture view. 

Reading the book itself will probably give you many new titles to read, and likely make you want to reread some you love. If your interest is in reading even more about the authors and genres, the bibliography is a rich source of information. I was happy to even see a couple of theory books, though if theory isn't your thing, don't worry, there aren't many.

While this is ideal for anyone with an interest in crime fiction (broadly speaking), I think it would also be of interest to those who simply enjoy literary history.

Reviewed from a copy made available by the publisher via NetGalley.
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"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."

Who doesn't want to read a history of crime fiction?
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My thanks to both NetGalley and the publisher Harper 360-Collins Crime Club for an advanced copy of this historical study on the mystery genre. 

The section entitled Mystery in most bookstores encompasses many different styles and forms. Some books feature puzzles, some books are full of fisticuffs. Some stories take place in noble houses and gardens, some take place place in dive bars and back alleys. There might be a murder that takes place off stage with no mention of violence, some book offer complete autopsies with medical terminology and full viscera. Basically something for everyone. As a mystery fan I love them all from Sherlocks to shamus and everything in between. As does writer, mystery historian and literature consultant Martin Edwards, whose book The Life of Crime: Detecting the History of Mysteries and their Creators is one of the most comprehensive and readable histories of a genre I have ever read. A book that any mystery fan would kill to own. 

The book is broken down into almost 60 essays addressing the history of mysterys from the beginning of writing to the modern day. The book is primarily about English authors, though there are numerous mentions of American writers and of course essays on Norwegian Noir and Japanese mysteries. The essays feature biographical sketches of popular and lost writers, cover major works and trends and how they influenced other writers, or have faded away as trends have a habit of doing. Films, television and radio shows are covered, again with a British leaning, but in this day of streaming a lot of shows are mentioned that might be worth adding to the watch que. However it is the books that are mentioned that will make readers smile, all described in a way that the puzzles and story are not ruined, something Mr. Edwards is careful not to do. Read with a pad and paper as many new writers and novels will need to be written down. 

The book is never dull or drags, even in some sections of no interest, the reader will keep reading just for the writing, and the interesting facts that the author covers. The book is wonderfully sourced, and the footnotes are just as informative as the text. The work involved is just amazing to contemplate, so many authors, and so many kinds of stories and eras, and with a conversational style that never seems like a lecture, more, oh that sounds great, let me write that down. To read about the lives of authors whose books I've read suddenly makes a lot of their stories clearer and I understand where they were coming from, and why they wrote what they did. One of the most illuminating books on literature of any type that I have read in a long time. 

This is the book that other histories of the genre will be compared to. For a fan of mysteries this is a must have book, for reference and for finding lost classics that time was not kind too. A big book that a fan can get lost in and learn so much, and one that will be flipped through for years to come. An achievement I really can't say enough about.
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