Martin Edwards is known as both a writer of crime novels and an expert in Golden Age detection. I’ve enjoyed both areas of his writing and I’m delighted to see a new direction for this author. Gallows Court, uses his knowledge of classic crime but gives a 1930s setting a contemporary twist.
Rachel Severnake is a rich heiress, the daughter of a renowned hanging judge. She grew up on the desolate island of Gaunt and is renowned for solving the Chorus Girl Murder, to the embarrassment of Scotland Yard. In a smog filled London, women are being brutally killed and young newspaper reporter, Jacob Flint, is looking for a scoop which will make his career. His attempts to contact Rachel are met with rebuff and he becomes convinced she has some insight into the killer.
Historical crime can sometimes suffer from a sentimental view of the period in which it’s set. Edwards deftly avoids this cliché, depicting London as dark, grimy and cowering in the face of killings. It’s difficult throughout the book to decide if Rachel is hero or anti-hero, which greatly adds to the tension, keeping the reader perpetually unsettled. There are hints of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, both in terms of the sense of menace and scenes set on the island of Gaunt where Rachel is raised. I’m sure Edwards’ existing fans will love this change of tone but he should also garner new readers for his excellent fiction.
The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books by Martin Edwards has been much anticipated by fans of classic crime fiction. It follows the success of The Golden Age of Murder, Edwards’ impressive story of the famed Detection Club, and the British Library crime classics for which he’s the series consultant. Impeccably packaged with vintage style covers, the success of the series has opened up classic crime to a new generation of readers.
It must have been a near-impossible task to choose 100 books in which to tell the story of classic crime. In his introduction, Edwards emphasises that the novels have been chosen to emphasise the genre’s development and is not merely a list of the best books of the period. The introduction serves as fascinating summary of the Golden Age as do the chapter headings. The breadth of the themes identified: from serial killers to psychological thrillers, the origins of many modern day crime fiction tropes can be traced back to the Golden Age period.
The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books is a book to both read from cover to cover and to dip in and out of. I found myself doing both, looking for authors I was familiar with and discovering new ones. Some of the books will require determination to track down if you’re inspired to read them which makes the list all the more interesting. It’s a timely reminder that the period of the classic crime is more complex and wide-ranging that is often attributed to it. This impressive volume is a book to return to time and time again.