#918: The Life of Crime (2022) by Martin Edwards

Life of Crime

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To me falls the honour of rounding off the blog tour for The Life of Crime (2022) by Martin Edwards, adding to the deserved praise it has already garnered elsewhere. This “personal journey through the genre’s past, with all the limitations and idiosyncrasies that implies” is a monumental achievement, encompassing the breadth and depth of a genre that is now a good couple of centuries old, and finding many nuggets to share about it along the way. And, since any study of a genre must inherently be about that genre to some extent, Edwards’ trump card here is to tell a story of crime writing that also sheds light on the need for such stories to exist in the first place.

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#903: The Loss of the Jane Vosper (1936) by Freeman Wills Crofts

Loss of the Jane Vosper

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Hector Macdonald’s excellent thriller The Storm Prophet (2007) was the first book to ever make me consider the terror of being trapped aboard a sinking boat in the open sea.  15 years later, the opening chapters of The Loss of the Jane Vosper (1936) by Freeman Wills Crofts, in which the eponymous freighter is shaken by mysterious explosions and must be abandoned, brought those anxieties back, despite the calm competence of her crew and some surprisingly elegiac imagery (“[the lifeboats] turned with one consent and began rowing with her, determined to see the end…Not a man but was heartily thankful to be out of her, and yet she was their home.”).

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#867: Crime at Guildford, a.k.a. The Crime at Nornes (1935) by Freeman Wills Crofts

Crime at Guildford

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Five members of the board of Nornes Limited, a London-based jewellers, meet one Saturday evening at the home of the company’s managing director to discuss the dwindling health of the business away from the prying eyes of their competitors.  On Sunday morning, one of the men is discovered dead in bed, and the doctor who is summoned to examine the body proves unwilling to offer a death certificate.  Little do Nornes, Ltd. know it, but their problems are only just beginning, as Monday morning reveals the execution of a theft that will sink their business if the loot is not recovered.  Enter DCI Joseph French.

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#855: The Wintringham Mystery, a.k.a. Cicely Disappears (1927) by Anthony Berkeley [a.p.a. by A. Monmouth Platts]

Wintringham Mystery

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Even though — or perhaps, because — I’m a fan of Anthony Berkeley Cox’s work, I approach him with some trepidation. At his best you get the innovative brilliance of The Poisoned Chocolates Case (1929), while among his failures is the repetitious turgidity of The Second Shot (1930) or Not to be Taken (1938).  Thankfully, The Wintringham Mystery (1927), originally serialised in the Daily Mirror in 1926 before being reworked as a novel, falls squarely in the former camp: a witty, playful, brisk Country House puzzler bafflingly out of print for nearly a century that’s so good it would justify a full reprint of the man’s work on its own.

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#831: “As you know, an unusual crime has a deep interest for me…” – Bodies from the Library 4 [ss] (2021) ed. Tony Medawar

I can’t believe that there is a GAD enthusiast who doesn’t look forward to the annual Bodies from the Library collections so expertly curated by Tony Medawar. In bringing to public awareness some of the forgotten, neglected, or simply unknown stories that the great and the good of the form produced, these collections have become a source of great excitement, and a must-read for even the most ardent student of the Golden Age.

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#791: Death at Breakfast (1936) by John Rhode

Death at Breakfast

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Is it damning Cecil Street with disgustingly faint praise to say that he has become the author about whose work I am most likely to say “Yeah, that’s pretty much what I expected”? Whether writing as Miles Burton or as John Rhode, he generally gives you a moderately interesting puzzle that would have been better if a little more time were devoted to its structure and contents. My admittedly small sampling of his work doesn’t display the variety of Freeman Wills Crofts nor the creative construction and elucidation of R. Austin Freeman, and that’s…fine. But given the materials at his fingertips it’s also…a little disappointing.

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#755: Mystery on Southampton Water, a.k.a. Crime on the Solent (1934) by Freeman Wills Crofts

Mystery on Southampton Water

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For evidence of the restless enthusiasm Freeman Wills Crofts brought to the writing of detective fiction, look no further than the two books he published in 1934. The first — The 12.30 from Croydon, a.k.a. Wilful and Premeditated — was his first inverted mystery, a fairly standard affair in which we are wise to the killer’s reasons, actions, and thoughts from the beginning and which Inspector Joseph French then unpicks quickly in the closing chapters. No doubt Crofts was interested in this new form, but simply repeating a formula which, if we’re honest, gets a little bit long-winded in the closing stages did not appeal. And so changes were wrought for a second stab.

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