Cover Image: The Life of Crime

The Life of Crime

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date:

Member Reviews

With The Life of Crime, Martin Edwards has done a great service for crime-fiction aficionados. Broken into dozens of short chapters, the book is informative, but not overwhelming as its size would imply. A fantastic reference book for super fans of the genre.

Was this review helpful?

This book is a literary history of the development of the mystery novel. Although it is well researched and mysteries are my favorite reading material, it is more information than I want to know.

Was this review helpful?

Martin Edwards has written both his own novels and non-fiction titles about crime and mystery. This book, that is almost 600 pages long, has to be one of his most ambitious yet. In these pages, Edwards writes about the history of crime novels. He begins with the origins of the genre. Moving forward readers find chapters with intriguing titles like Guilty Secrets, Treacherous Impulses, The Mistress of Deception ( I bet you know who that is), Locked Rooms, Sensation in Court, Daggers of the Mind, A Suitable Job for a Woman and many more. I am in awe of all that he has taken on in this book, furthermore he has performed his task most ably.

Fans of mystery fiction who wold like to know more about their favorite genre will find much to explore here. Read in historical order or just go where your impulse takes you. Either way, this is a wonderful resource. Readers will leave having enjoyed reading about their favorites; they will also have many new authors to add to their TBR piles.

Many thanks to NetGalley and Harper 360 for this title. All opinions are my own

Was this review helpful?

The Life of Crime is an amazing and fascinating story of the crime genre. At over 700 pages it is a brick of a book, but the detail and the amount of research that must’ve gone into it make it completely understandable. It starts with the beginnings of the genre and spans until modern times, and includes names both famous and less known. I was a bit worried that it might be a dense read, but as far as nonfiction goes, The Life of Crime is really entertaining, if slightly repetitive at times. I think the best way to read it is to take your time with it - there’s a lot of information and it’s extremely impressive how much work Edwards put into it, so I think taking your time with this book is the perfect way to appreciate it. I’m truly blown away by this read and I loved learning more about one of my favorite genres. Absolutely a must read for crime fiction fans!

Was this review helpful?

First-class job of research, beautifully related and organized. It’s a reference for mystery writers everywhere to keep at hand.
—G.M. Malliet

Was this review helpful?

The Life of Crime
Detecting the History of Mysteries and their Creators
by Martin Edwards
Pub Date 16 Aug 2022 | Archive Date 22 Nov 2022
Harper 360, Collins Crime Club
Biographies & Memoirs | Nonfiction (Adult)

I am reviewing a copy of The Life of Crime through Harper 360, Collins Crime Club and Netgalley:

The Life of Crime is the first major history of Crime fiction in half a century.

Martin Edwards is a multi award winning crime novelist as well as the President of 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.

Martin Edwards 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 comes from 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, he has thrown himself undaunted into the breadth and complexity of the genre to write an authoritative as well as a readable study of its development and evolution of crime fiction.

I give The Life of Crime five out of five stars!

Happy Reading!

Was this review helpful?

Lately I’ve felt few hardcovers are actually worth owning, but there are always exceptions. I’m sure many of us have our collections – all of Agatha Christie or Michael Connelly or Sue Grafton, for example – but Martin Edwards’ new reference book, The Life of Crime, is the exception to the rule. First of all, it’s beautiful. The paper is smooth and creamy; the jacket is simple and elegant; and the endpapers – a collection of classic crime covers – are to die for. But while the cover draws you in, it’s what’s between them that’s the point.

Edwards, in an exhaustive, thorough fashion has documented the crime novel from its inception – he bookmarks William Godwin’s 1795 tome, The Adventures of Caleb Williams. Who among us, other than the erudite Edwards, has read this novel? But he usefully traces it to contemporary and more familiar books, who can trace their origins back to 1795. His list includes John Buchan, Frederick Forsyth and Lee Child as children of this long ago adventure novel.

He continues to trace the crime novel forward. In his chapter on Conan Doyle and Sherlock, he cites one of the most (to me) influential developments in mystery fiction: the creation of the series detective. The series detective is the reason the detective in these novels is often beloved. That long form relationship with the reader cannot be matched.

In a chapter on transition from the golden age to the present (Private Wounds), Edwards says “The depressing truth is that it is exceptionally difficult to be entirely original.” This instance was occasioned by the similarities between Nicholas Blake’s A Penknife in my Heart (1958), and Patricia Highsmith’s Strangers on a Train (1950). Blake had even cited Highsmith as an influence on his own work. The two books are very different, though with a similar premise.

To me the joy and interest of the mystery novel is found right there. It’s a form with certain parameters, but within that form and those parameters, there are endless variations. Martin Edwards is saying nothing radical here (to crime fiction fans, at least), he’s making a case for the longevity, importance, and lasting nature of crime fiction. There’s a reason a book written by Doyle in 1887, A Study in Scarlet, is still being read today.

The careful Edwards follows the threads of mysterious history in many, many directions. Scandinavian crime, Simenon and European crime writing, American police novels, female private eyes, the “Had I But Known” school – he illuminates all of them in this 600 plus page book, heavily footnoted and indexed. You can dip in and out – enjoy a chapter, think about it, put it down, return.

I don’t think it was in his purview to write about crime fiction that’s being read and created at the moment, though he includes authors like Michael Connelly, Val McDermid, Charles Todd and Attica Locke. That will fall to another researcher in the future. He ends his book with a wonderful chapter on P.D. James, a favorite author of mine (and obviously, of Edwards’), whose first Dalgleish novel, Cover Her Face (1962), was a bridge from the golden age of the past to the darker, more psychologically minded present.

And finally, this stuck with me: “More wisdom is contained in the best crime fiction than in philosophy” (Ludwig Wittgenstein). And Edwards’ tome, and the wisdom within it, has a permanent place on my bookshelf where I can refer to it again and again, as with any great reference book. Kudos to Mr. Edwards for what I am sure was years of hard work on a genre that he loves.

Was this review helpful?

Perfect book to add to lovers of crime fiction.A treasure trove of information perfect for mystery lovers libraries.A book to dip in and out of .So well written so interesting highly recommend.

Was this review helpful?

This is a crime-lover’s dream - a comprehensive treatment of crime fiction by a master of the genre, presented in a readable and fascinating way. It took me awhile to finish this as this is the kind of book I dip in and out of, reading a chapter here and there. And reading a chapter isn’t as easy as it sounds, because I found I had to keep a notebook handy to write down all the authors and books I haven’t read, but which Edwards presents in various forms.

This will appeal to readers of crime fiction and probably not many others, so it’s a niche buy. I’d recommend for large library collections.

Was this review helpful?

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.

Was this review helpful?

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!!

Was this review helpful?

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.

Was this review helpful?

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.

Was this review helpful?

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!

Was this review helpful?

An absolute gem for fans of crime fiction. A recommended purchase for collections where the genre and writing craft titles are popular.

Was this review helpful?

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.

Was this review helpful?

"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?

Was this review helpful?

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.

Was this review helpful?