Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Q&A with Martin Edwards




Martin Edwards is the author of the new book The Life of Crime: Detecting the History of Mysteries and Their Creators. His other books include the Lake District mystery series. He lives in Lymm, UK.


Q: What inspired you to write The Life of Crime?


A: Crime fiction has fascinated me since I discovered Agatha Christie at the age of 8, at which point not only did I become a fan, I conceived an ambition to become a crime writer myself. I became intrigued by the lives of crime writers and this only increased after my first novel was published.


By then, I’d also become deeply interested in the history and heritage of this wonderful genre, and keen to explore its full range – not just contemporary stories, but those of the past – many of them long-forgotten – and those from across the world.


For many years I toyed with the idea of writing an up-to-date history of crime writing and finally I hit upon the idea of telling the story through the lives of a wide variety of writers over the years, from a diverse range of backgrounds.


The result was The Life of Crime, which is I believe the most wide-ranging history of crime fiction ever attempted by a single author. It’s a book that tells a story, about the evolution of the genre, through many different individual stories about the personal triumphs and disasters of crime writers across the world.


Q: In an article for CrimeReads.com, you said, “I aimed to explore the notion of the ‘life of crime’, in one sense by writing a sort of biography of this type of writing, in another by glancing at the rollercoaster lives of some of the most interesting crime writers.” How did you balance both of these goals as you were working on the book?


A: I decided that each chapter would start with a section presenting a sort of vignette of an individual writer’s life, which helps to cast light on their fiction. In most chapters (apart from a few devoted to giants of the genre, like Poe, Conan Doyle, Christie, and Highsmith) I move on to explore related work – so there tends to be a theme or unifying factor in each chapter.


The chapter endnotes are very important, because they contain a vast amount of information which I find truly fascinating and instructive, yet which doesn’t fit so easily into the main text. The idea is that readers can approach the book in a number of different ways, according to the tastes.


Because this is such a big book (quarter of a million words!) I felt it was important to cater for those who want to “dip in” to selected areas as well as those who prefer to read from start to finish, and those – and I hope there will be many of them – who want to keep the book handy and come back to it from time to time to explore different subjects in more depth.


Q: Of the various crime writers you discuss in the book, are there some you found especially compelling?


A: Each of the authors who is the “lead subject” of a chapter interests me, and so do many of the less renowned figures.


A few highly selective examples: Mary Roberts Rinehart, Patrick and Bruce Hamilton, Cornell Woolrich, Ross Macdonald, P.D. James. Of the less renowned authors, William Lindsey Gresham, author of Nightmare Alley, fascinates me, as does Jim Thompson.


Q: What do you see looking ahead when it comes to crime fiction?


A: Part of the joy of crime fiction’s development is that it is highly unpredictable. Ten years ago, nobody would have predicted the amazing success of the British Library Crime Classics – it came as a shock to me, and I’m the series consultant!


But I’m confident that writers will continue to explore fresh ways of using the hook of a crime to explore character and society, while the rediscovery of previously neglected works of the past will continue to unearth many undeservedly forgotten gems.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I’m currently writing Sepulchre Street, the fourth in my series of novels set in the 1930s and featuring Rachel Savernake. The third, Blackstone Fell, is to be published in the UK in September and in the US next year (as The Puzzle of Blackstone Lodge).


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: My Lake District Mysteries are a contemporary series of cold case whodunits set in the glorious Lake country of north England. The latest title is The Girl They All Forgot (this is the US title of The Crooked Shore).


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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