The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books



Martin Edwards –The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books, The British Library, 2017


A book review by Jonas Rohe, Queen’s University of Belfast



Martin Edwards’ The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books (2017) offers a literary history of crime fiction of the first half of the 20th century, focusing mainly on the British tradition. The hardcover book is beautifully edited with an artfully designed cover and includes several high gloss pictures of different classic crime fiction book covers. Edwards, as a successful crime fiction author himself, has selected a wide variety of stories that cover the “Golden Age of Crime” of the thirties to the post-World War II crime fiction period.

The diversity of the crime genre is well represented in Edwards’ anthology. His carefully balanced selection points out the genre defining works such as Agatha Christie’s The Murder at the Vicarage (1939), but also many lesser known stories which offer an interesting change in narrative perspective or move away from the classic detective formula. For readers who are interested in classical crime fiction, the book offers new perspectives on well-known narratives as well as trivia about the behind-the-scenes lives of writers of the genre. Edwards’ work is a great way for both novices and experts of the genre to discover new stories from this period. This anthology of whodunit remains spoiler free, and Edwards keep the surprises of all the plots he succinctly presents intact for future readers. Edwards’ book is not only a great source for rediscovering classic but often almost forgotten detective stories. It also provides the reader with an illustrated history of the classic age of crime fiction as a genre.  A selection of notable works, mainly British, starting with Doyle’s The Hound of Baskervilles (1902) and ending with The 31st of February (1950) by crime fiction writer and journalist Julian Symons, shows the different aspects of this classical period, inscribing it firmly within the first half of the 20th Century and anchoring it in a distinctively British cultural landscape. The book is structured in 24 chapters which follow roughly the chronological order of the works published. The first few chapters contextualize crime fiction writing in the early 20th century,  the golden age and the early 1950’s. The majority of the later chapters follow the various approaches and tropes of classic, crime fiction, tracing the evolution of the genre, separating fiction from fact, exploring cosmopolitan crimes or the psychology of crime fiction. With his structure Edwards follows the different shifts in style in crime fiction writing through the century and provides a good overview of the genre. Each chapter starts with a general overview of the topic, before going into detail on the individual texts.

As an example, in Chapter One “A New Era Dawns”, Edward describes how after Sherlock Holmes’ alleged death on the Reichenbachfall in 1893, crime fiction authors were struggling to fill the vacuum and began to experiment with a variety of new types of detective characters. In this period some of the better-known female detectives were created, like Baroness Orczy’s Lady Molly of Scotland Yard (1910), the unlikely chief investigator, who only pursues her detective career to free her husband from Dartmore prison. However, not only did the characters change, but also the genre’s typical medium. Short stories, which were highly popular due to Doyle’s success, were gradually replaced by the detective novel that would become the predominant text form of the 20th century. The full length of a novel presented crime writers with the challenge to maintain the suspense and an air of mystery throughout the text and prompted them to emphasize more on long-term character development and a more complex plot.

In the more trope-oriented later chapters Edwards goes through a variety of topics and styles of crime fiction writing, for example, the psychological aspect of crime. With the rising public interest in psychoanalysis in 1920s, focusing on the behavior and psychology of the criminal became a popular trope within crime fiction writing. Certainly one of the first novels with a focus on the mind of the murderer appeared already, almost simultaneously with the first crime novel, Gaboriau’s  L’Affaire Lerouge,  in Fjodor Dostojewski Crime and Punishment (1866).  There, the reader empathizes with the murderer Raskolnikov and his attempts to cover up his crime and escape justice. But Edwards shows that this kind of crime fiction, which focuses not on who did it, but rather on the depths and abysses of the human mind, found a deep resonance in the classic age,  starting with The House by the River (1920) by A.P Herbert. Thus, with reference to works ranging from Anthony Berkeley’s The Second Shot (1930), to the highly popular The Talented Mr. Ripley (1955) novels by Patricia Highsmith, Edwards describes the development and the rising success of the psychological crime story.

Overall Edwards’ The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books offers a varied and interesting selection of classic crime stories, displaying an extensive knowledge of the many individual titles presented. The expertise of the author and his passion for crime fiction writing is evident throughout the text and provides the reader with an interesting and rewarding inside view on the classic crime genre. The text is well structured, and the development of the genre can be traced throughout the book. Although in some cases it would have been interesting to know why exactly Edwards choose specific titles for the different chapters, as well as taking some more time to explain his thought process to the reader. Another small complaint is that Edwards as a crime fiction expert mainly focuses on British crime fiction and only devotes one chapter to the American branch of the genre. But to be fair the inclusion of the whole French and American tradition from 1900 onwards would most certainly require a much more extensive anthology than Edward can provide in his thoroughly enjoyable 280-page text. Save for this small criticism, The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books is a rewarding and entertaining read for anyone interested in the crime fiction genre and serves as a convenient guide for discovering unknown classic crime stories.

The book is part of the internationally acclaimed Classic Crime series of the British Library, which republishes a selection of previously hard to come by classic crime stories. Unfortunately, not all the stories discussed in Edwards’ book are part of the series, but readers who want easy access to classic crime fiction can find many popular titles there. The British Library classic series can be found here: https://www.bl.uk/shop/books-and-media/crime-classics/c-115


About the Author:

Martin Edwards is an award-winning crime writer best known for his Harry Devlin and Lake District novels. He is series consultant for British Library Crime Classics, Chair of the Crime Writers Association, and President of the Detection Club. The Golden Age of Murder, his study of the Detection Club, was published in 2015 and won several awards for the year´s best book about the crime genre. You can find our review here: https://internationalcrimefiction.org/2015/05/07/3514


Crime At The Crescent

As part of Belfast Book Festival, five  Irish crime authors will  identify and discuss how crime writing reflects society, and examine how writing about traumatic events can be used to reflect and heal.


14:00 – 15:15


Brian McGilloway is the New York Times bestselling author of the critically acclaimed Inspector Benedict Devlin and DS Lucy Black series. Brian’s fifth novel, Little Girl Lost, featuring DS Lucy Black, won the University of Ulster’s McCrea Literary Award in 2011 and was a New York Times Bestseller in the US and a No.1 Bestseller in the UK. His new novel, Bad Blood, the fourth in the Lucy Black series, was published in May 2017.

Anthony J Quinn is the author of seven novels, including Disappeared (Mysterious Press, 2012, and Head of Zeus, 2014), Border Angels and Undertow (Head of Zeus November 2017). His debut novel Disappeared was a Daily Mail Crime Novel of the Year, and was shortlisted for a Strand Literary Award in the Us. It was also picked by Kirkus Reviews as one of the top ten thrillers of the year.

Claire Allan  is a former journalist and Irish Times bestselling author from Derry. She has previously written eight women’s fiction titles, published by Poolbeg Press. In 2016, she decided to make the leap to writing full time, and also to unleashing her dark side. Her Name Was Rose is her debut psychological thriller and it will be published by Avon, an imprint of Harper Collins, on June 28. It will also be published in Canada and the US. Claire spent 17 years as a reporter for the Derry Journal.

Sharon Dempsey‘s crime debut Little Bird was released July 2017 with Bloodhound Books. She has published four health books. Sharon is working on the follow up to Little Bird, and a collection of dark short stories. Her contemporary women’s fiction novel, A Posy of Promises, will be published in June.

Andrea Carter has written a series of crime novels set in Inishowen. Death at Whitewater Church was published in 2015, Treacherous Stand in 2016 and The Well of Ice in October last year.

Blood on the Table

“Blood on the Table: Essays on Food in  International Crime Fiction”, edited by Jean Anderson, Carolina Miranda and Barbara Pezzotti, is the first book to focus explicitly on the semiotics of food in crime fiction. Tackling the subject from a multicultural and interdisciplinary perspective, it includes approaches from cultural studies, food studies, media studies and crime fiction studies.  The collection offers readings, across a range of media, of twentieth- and twenty-first-century crime fiction from Australia, Cuba, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Sweden, the UK, and the US. Authors studied include Anthony Bourdain, Arthur Upfield, Sara Paretsky, Andrea Camilleri, Fred Vargas, Ruth Rendell, Stieg Larsson, Leonardo Padura, Georges Simenon, Paco Ignacio Taibo II, and Donna Leon. Television productions analyzed here include the Inspector Montalbano series (1999-ongoing), the Danish-Swedish Bron/Broen (2011[The Bridge]), and its remakes The Tunnel (2013, France/UK) and The Bridge (2013, USA).
Jean Anderson is associate professor of French at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand where she founded the New Zealand Centre for Literary Translation in 2007. She is also a literary translator, with a dozen book-length translations published. Carolina Miranda is the director of European and Latin American languages and cultures at Victoria University, Wellington, New Zealand. Barbara Pezzotti teaches Italian Studies at Monash University, Melbourne, Australia and is an Honorary Research Associate of the Australasian Centre for Italian Studies (ACIS). She is the author of three monographs on Italian crime fiction

For more information:

“Murder, She Tweeted: Crime Narratives and the Digital Age”



University of Tampere, Finland, August 23-24, 2018

Keynote speakers: Andrew Pepper (Queen’s University Belfast) & Fiona Peters (Bath Spa University)

First Call for Papers

Murder tweet

The advent of new technologies and digital media have transformed society and influenced cultural narratives. The changes brought about by technological innovations, digitalisation, and globalisation have affected not only the subject matter and themes of contemporary crime narratives but also the production, distribution, and consumption of crime fiction on the global market, as well as the analytical tools, techniques, research methods, and theories available to scholars. These changes are readily visible in detectives’ digital investigations or in how criminals employ digital technology in committing cybercrimes such as online stalking or theft. Moreover, the potential of digitalisation in modifying crime narratives nowadays ranges from podcasts such as “Serial” to Sherlock Holmes fan fiction to transmedia narration in “Sherlock” and the Twitter adaptation of Agatha Christie’s The Body in the Library.

We invite proposals for paper presentations on crime narratives and the digital age from different language and cultural spheres. The conference’s approach to crime and the digital context is wide and covers a variety of contemporary crime narratives (e.g. novels, films, TV series, adaptations, true crime, fan fiction, vlogs, blogs and other social media) that can be examined in a number of ways.

We would like to welcome proposals which address one or several of the following topics (please note that the list is by no means exhaustive):

– production and the global market of crime narratives
– crime narratives, participatory production and fan practices
– new modes of narration and serialised storytelling in crime narratives
– multimodality and transmedia crime narratives
– remakes and social media adaptations of crime narratives
– social media and mobile technologies in or about crime narratives
– crimes and criminal agency
– criminal networks and transnational crime
– crime and thriller narratives and digital geopolitics
– policing, detective agency and (digital) methods of detection
– true crime narratives and cold case archives
– digital humanities and the study of crime narratives
– crime and digital culture in the postcolonial world
– virtual crime
– ecology, crime and digital technologies

Participants may contribute with individual presentations (20 min) or panel proposals (three presenters).

Please submit your proposal (max 300 words for individual presentations; for panels, please submit titles and abstracts of each paper) and a short biographical statement (including name, email address, institutional affiliation) to t.helen.mantymaki@jyu.fi and maarit.piipponen@uta.fi as attachments in rtf or doc format by March 20, 2018.

Conference fee: there is a conference fee of 70 euros (coffee, lunches, reception) and participants are expected to cover all costs for travel, accommodation and subsistence themselves.

Organising committee:

Dr Helen Mäntymäki, University of Jyväskylä, Finland.
Dr Maarit Piipponen, University of Tampere, Finland.
Dr Aino-Kaisa Koistinen, University of Jyväskylä, Finland.
Dr Andrea Hynynen, Finland.

Trouble Is Our Business: New Stories by Irish Crime Writers


Fri 25th November 6.30pm, No Alibis, 83, Botanic Avenue, Belfast

An evening of chat about Crime Fiction on the Emerald Isle with Declan Burke, John Connolly and Others

Thrilling, disturbing, shocking and moving, Trouble Is Our Business: New Stories by Irish Crime Writers is a compulsive anthology of original stories by Ireland’s best-known crime writers. Continue reading

New Approaches to Studying Crime Narratives


One-day Symposium: “New Approaches to Studying Crime Narratives”
October 14, 2016
University of Tampere, Finland
First Call for Papers
We invite proposals for paper presentations on new approaches to studying crime narratives. We want to encourage participants to introduce and discuss new methodological and theoretical perspectives on how to study literary, televisual and filmic crime narratives, and also to consider recent developments in the field of crime writing itself. The symposium understands crime narratives in a wide sense, as ranging from detective fiction, spy stories, and thrillers to true crime. The symposium also welcomes proposals focusing on crime narratives from various language areas and cultural spheres. We would like to welcome proposals which address the following topics (however, the list is by no means exhaustive):

Continue reading