Capital Crimes edited by Martin Edwards
Resorting to Murder edited by Martin Edwards
The British Library Crime Classics series of books has been garnering praise widely of recent months (justifiably so!) and if the sales figures are to be believed, they’re going from strength to strength; obviously, reports of the paper book’s demise have been great exaggerated!
I’ve been lucky in that my local library has stocked many of these, and I was particularly keen to read “Resorting to Murder”, a collection of short stories themed around crimes taking place on holiday. Wonderfully enough, I was also able to read the “Capital Crimes” London-based collection thanks to NetGalley – the BL books are being issued in the USA by Poisoned Pen Press, and they kindly provided an e-book version for review.
Both these collections have been expertly put together by Martin Edwards, with an introduction by the man, plus individual pieces on each author before their story. And there’s a fascinating array of writing on show here. The stories range from shorter pieces (under 10 pages) to more substantial works verging on the novella. The authors, too, are wonderfully varied, from well-known names like Arthur Conan-Doyle (yes, Sherlock features!) to writers I hadn’t come across before, such as Henry Wade. And all are really high quality – I don’t think I came across a dud in either book!
It’s clear that Edwards knows his stuff and he deserves kudos and awards for collecting together some excellent reads. I was particularly pleased to discover Anthony Berkeley’s work – he’s a Golden Age author who’s been somewhat forgotten in recent decades, which is a crime in itself, because the two stories featured here are brilliant. The title featured in “Resorting to Murder” (a gem called “Razor Edge”) is actually so obscure that even the BL didn’t hold a copy so thumbs up to Martin Edwards for making it available to all!
Another particular delight was making the acquaintance of Reggie Fortune, doctor and detective, created by H.C.Bailey. His stories might well have been my favourites of both collections; he’s an appealing character; a little mannered and dated, perhaps, but very funny and his concerns and his abhorrence of cruelty make for a very powerful tale. The London-based story, “The Little Houses”, features a crime that initially seems slight, that of a lost cat; before long, however, events take a very dark turn. The holiday tale, “The Hazel Ice”, is a clever, twisty story set in Switzerland, involving mountaineering accidents and complex alibis. It’s odd and quite unaccountable why his stories aren’t more popular and I’ll certainly be exploring more of Dr. Fortune’s adventures.
The two collections, despite having linking themes, manage to contain a real variety of works. Some of my other favourites were “Cousin Once Removed” by Michael Gilbert (short and very, very clever), “Holiday Task” by Leo Bruce (a lovely pastiche), “They Don’t Wear Labels” by E.M. Delafield (yes, the Provincial Lady, telling a very chilling tale) and “The Avenging Chance” by Anthony Berkeley (a tricksy Roger Sheringham mystery). But in many ways it’s unfair to pick out just a few – there’s an embarrassment of riches here, and all the stories are excellent in their own way.
So I can’t praise the British Library and their crime classics, or indeed Martin Edwards, enough. The books are living proof that you can produce beautiful editions of interesting, entertaining and enjoyable works and that people will flock to buy them. They’ve rescued wonderful tales from underserved obscurity and so more power to their elbow – let’s hope the series has many more treats in store for all fans of Golden Age crime!
(Many thanks to NetGalley and Poisoned Pen Press for providing review copy of Capital Crimes!)