The Life of Crime by Martin Edwards: a splendid read
This book is the result of a lifetime of reading a vast range of crime fiction. Martin Edwards claims that despite its length – running as it does (with exhaustive indexes) to 724 pages – The Life of Crime is a miracle of concision and that is hardly an exaggeration. Chronologically it spans the late 18th century to the present day and covers every subgenre you can think of. If there is any category left out, I don’t know it is. I looked in vain for any crime writer of importance missing from the book.
The Life of Crime is a worthy successor to Julian Symons ground-breaking survey, Bloody Murder, published 50 years ago. The inclusion of biographical details, largely missing from Bloody Murder, makes fascinating reading. Martin is more measured in his judgements than Symons. The so-called Humdrum Writers such as Freeman Wills Croft, famously disparaged by Julian Symonds, are given their due here. He does a good job too of separating the wheat from the chaff, for instance, dealing briskly with Patricia Cornwell’s claim that the painter Walter Sickert was Jack the Ripper.
The Life of Crime can be read chronologically as an account of the development of crime fiction, but it is equally a book for roaming around in and I know I will return to it again and again. So, chapeau, Martin! This a true tour-de-force. I can’t think of anyone else who could have written this and it is essential reading for any fan of crime fiction, and particularly for those of us who love the Golden Age.