The best books about crime fiction, the world’s most popular genre

Martin Edwards Author Of The Life of Crime: Detecting the History of Mysteries and Their Creators
By Martin Edwards

Who am I?

I am a storyteller and I conceived The Life of Crime as the ‘life story’ of a fascinating and truly diverse genre. I’ve always been intrigued by the ups and downs of literary lives, and the book explores the rollercoaster careers of writers from across the world. The chapter endnotes contain masses of trivia and information, as well as some original research, that I hope readers will find enjoyable as well as interesting. But The Life of Crime isn’t an academic text. It’s a love letter to a genre that I’ve adored for as long as I can remember.  

I wrote...

The Life of Crime: Detecting the History of Mysteries and Their Creators

By Martin Edwards,

Book cover of The Life of Crime: Detecting the History of Mysteries and Their Creators

What is my book about?

In this ground-breaking history of crime fiction, Martin Edwards traces the evolution of the genre from the eighteenth century to the present, offering a brand-new perspective on the world’s most popular form of storytelling. He draws on his experience as an award-winning novelist to capture the breadth and complexity of crime writing in a study that is both authoritative and eminently readable. Crime fiction is being read more widely read than ever, and The Life of Crime detects the methods of crime authors and the ups and downs of their literary lives with insight, compassion, and wit. This definitive distillation of more than two centuries of extraordinary books and authors into one coherent history is an extraordinary feat and makes for compelling reading.

The books I picked & why

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Bloody Murder

By Julian Symons,

Book cover of Bloody Murder

Why this book?

I’ve read Bloody Murder more times than any other non-fiction book. The first edition made a huge impression on me. Symons introduced me to countless fascinating authors and books (many of them obscure) which I’d never heard of and which have given me endless reading pleasure. Symons’ opinions were, and remain, controversial, and his disdain for ‘humdrum’ writing from the ‘Golden Age’ between the wars has attracted much criticism, some of it sensible, some of it over-the-top. His belief that the ‘detective story’ had metamorphosed into the ‘crime novel’ was eloquently argued, but I think mistaken. Today’s readers have just as much of an appetite for an entertaining, well-crafted puzzle as ever. But never mind the flaws; this elegantly written book remains as influential as it is indispensable.

Murder for Pleasure: The Life and Times of the Detective Story

By Howard Haycraft,

Book cover of Murder for Pleasure: The Life and Times of the Detective Story

Why this book?

Haycraft was an American commentator and this survey of the history of crime writing up to the Second World War is soundly written and sympathetic. Interestingly, he believed that the locked room puzzle was played out and that authors should avoid it, whereas this type of mystery has enjoyed a significant revival in recent years. Predicting how crime writing will evolve in the future is fraught with danger! Inevitably, Haycraft’s focus was mainly on American and British crime fiction. The limited number of translated mysteries in those days meant that the global reach of crime writing, and the achievements of authors whose first language is not English, has long been under-estimated. Only now is this problem being addressed.   

Locked Room Murders

By Robert Adey,

Book cover of Locked Room Murders

Why this book?

This is a fun book. The late Bob Adey’s passion for locked-room puzzles and his extraordinary breadth of reading shines through. After a discursive history of this type of detective story, he lists over two thousand novels and stories and the ‘impossible crime’ elements within them. A separate section listing all the solutions is not only enlightening but highly entertaining. A recent updated edition by Brian Skupin evidences the enduring appeal of ‘miraculous mysteries.’ 

Twentieth Century Crime & Mystery Writers

By John Reilly (editor),

Book cover of Twentieth Century Crime & Mystery Writers

Why this book?

During my twenties, I supplemented my understanding of crime writers past and present by studying the essays, bibliographies, and authors’ comments in this weighty tome. It’s a first-rate reference book, packed with information. Reilly was responsible for the first two editions and I was delighted to be asked to contribute essays myself to the third and fourth editions.

The Oxford Companion to Crime and Mystery Writing

By Rosemary Herbert (editor), Catherine Aird (editor), John M. Reilly (editor), Susan Oleksiw (editor)

Book cover of The Oxford Companion to Crime and Mystery Writing

Why this book?

I dreamed for many years of writing a book about crime fiction. I’m primarily a crime novelist, but so was Julian Symons, and the experience of writing fiction is invaluable when discussing other writers and understanding what they were trying to do. I approached Oxford University Press, with a view to producing a Companion about the genre, comprising essays by writers including myself. This led to a fruitful meeting with an OUP editor and novelist, Michael Cox, but the project was stillborn when his American colleagues had commissioned just such a book, to be edited by Rosemary Herbert. Rosemary invited me to contribute twenty-odd essays to her Companion, and I found the work of my fellow contributors (including Symons) a delight to read.

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