It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of Golden Age (and before!) crime books; I started my addiction when I read Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie in my early teens, graduating to whatever vintage crime writing I could get my hands on. Sayers was probably my next crime obsession, after watching the Ian Carmichael BBC adaptations, and then I moved on to Allingham, Crispin, Simenon, Mitchell – well, you name them, I may well have read them.

So when I was approached to take part in a blog tour for a new release from the redoubtable Martin Edwards, I really couldn’t refuse. Edwards is, of course, series consultant for the British Library Crimes Classics, an imprint which has brought much joy to crime fiction lovers with its marvellous re-releases of classic, out of print works. As well as that, he’s a fine crime author in his own right, and obviously has a deep knowledge of his subject. That knowledge has been brought to bear in his new book, a hefty and glorious celebration of crime writing and writers entitled “The Life of Crime: Detecting the History of Mysteries and their Creators”.

The topic is, of course, as enormous as the book; and as Edwards points out in his introduction, there hasn’t been a decent study of the genre since Julian Symons’ groundbreaking “Bloody Murder”. I’ve read that book (I think it may still be in the house somewhere), and it *was* fascinating, though quite selective; “Life…”, however, takes things to a different level with 724 pages which explore crime writing from an early (and perhaps unexpected) genesis, right up to Scandi-crime, modern PIs and even a look at diversity in the genre.

On his epic journey through the development of the crime novel, Martin takes in the usual suspects – Poe’s pioneering tales, Holmes and Watson, Poirot and Hastings, Roderick Alleyn, Peter Wimsey – as well as drawing in modern detectives like Rebus. There’s psychological fiction, the American police fiction genre, domestic and theatre variants – really, this is a book of riches. Edwards’ knowledge of the subject is vast, and I found the chapters on Dashiell Hammett (a long-time favourite), Maigret and European crime and of course Agatha Christie particularly interesting. There were names new to me, and needless to say I’ve ended up with lots of lists scribbled in a notebook…

An element of the book I absolutely loved was the breadth of the titles and authors it covers. One chapter in particular looks at ‘Borges and postmodernism’, and makes fascinating reading. I’ve read and loved much Borges, and he often slips into mystery territory, although always with his own distinctive twist to it. In this chapter, Edwards explores Borges’ background, his writing and his influence on later writers – and this section had a particularly bad effect on the wishlist! The book covers thrillers, noir, locked room mysteries, British police, US police, ironic mysteries, humour and radio shows. Bad boys like Raffles get a chapter of their own, and I would struggle to find anything he’s missed out! Edwards’ erudition is dazzling and I was mightily impressed by the range of his knowledge about books generally.

However, despite its huge size, “Life..” is an easy and extremely enjoyable read. Edwards has split his topics into short and manageable chapters, each with its own section of notation at the end. I think this is a brilliant way to do it, because the notes add so much to the narrative, but having them all in a big lump at the end wouldn’t have worked. This way, you can read a chapter and its notes, write down all the new books and authors you want to explore, and then move onto the next section – wonderful, and it makes the book very dippable! There’s also a select bibliography (dangerous…) plus three different indices to help you navigate titles, names and subjects.

There were so many treats in “Life…”, whether Edwards was exploring the groundbreaking “Caleb Williams” or post-war spy fiction; his comprehensive look at the genre was a treat from start to finish. It’s impossible to convey the range of works he looks at in a blog post, and I can’t applaud more vigorously the amount of work which must have gone into this book – it’s an absolute triumph! With a subject as wide-ranging as crime writing, it might be thought impossible to produce a definitive study; however, with “Life..” I think Martin Edwards has succeeded and produced a wonderful guide to the genre from its inception to its current iterations. It’s a mighty achievement and essential reading for anyone who loves crime fiction in all its forms. I could go on forever about how good this book is, but I really think you should just go and read it – it will keep you happily occupied for hours!