The Life of Crime: Detecting the History of Mysteries and Their Creators

Collins Crime Club. Aug. 2022. 736p. ISBN 9780008192426. $32.99. LIT
It’s been 50 years since Julian Symons published Mortal Consequences, his classic history of the detective story. The genre has continued to grow, throwing off new offshoots, inversions, and modes of expression; crime writers today come from all over the globe. It’s time for a new study, and there can be no better fit for the task than Detection Club president Edwards (The Golden Age of Murder: The Mystery of the Writers Who Invented the Modern Detective Story), with 18 distinguished crime novels and numerous studies and anthologies of crime fiction to his credit. Edwards hasn’t tried to clone Symons’s book, as good as it was. There’s much more personal detail in Edwards’s study, which draws details from the lives of individual crime writers to explain how and why they wrote. The breadth of this book’s grasp reflects the fuzziness of traditional definitions of detective fiction: Symons redefined it as “crime fiction,” while Edwards expands it to include, e.g., spy thrillers. Beyond describing more than two centuries of key crime novels, Edwards reflects on subjects like the contributions of Borges and the differences and affiliations between Chandler and MacDonald; his analyses are acute, and his appreciation of his predecessor Symons is sharp and fair.
VERDICT A delight to read, including the footnotes. Essential for all serious devotees of crime and detective fiction.
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