An “unashamedly idiosyncratic” checklist from prolific novelist/editor/genre historian Edwards (The Dungeon House, 2015, etc.).
As readers will expect from the editor of the British Library Crime Classics series, the lion’s share of these 100 brief program notes, which read like a collection of prefaces, concern mystery novels published in England between the world wars. In addition to dozens of inescapably obvious titles from The Hound of the Baskervilles to Strangers on a Train, Edwards, determined to share “new discoveries” even with the most well-read fans of the genre, includes warmly appreciative, brief essays on neglected classics like Roy Horniman’s Israel Rank, Bernard Capes’ The Skeleton Key, C.H.B. Kitchin’s Birthday Party, Milward Kennedy’s Death to the Rescue, and Sebastian Farr’s Death on the Down Beat. Although the scenic, thematic organization of chapters like “Murder at the Manor,” “Playing Politics,” and “Fiction from Fact” makes the book read more like geography than history and often seems to dictate odd choices—e.g., Michael Innes’ Death at the President’s Lodging instead of his much better known Hamlet, Revenge! or Lament for a Maker—the coverage is impressive. Of the major golden-age British writers, only Georgette Heyer is notably absent, and even she makes a cameo as the model for a fictional character. Devoted American readers may wonder why Dashiell Hammett’s The Dain Curse made the cut but not Mary Roberts Rinehart or the “wildly popular” Philo Vance novels by S.S. Van Dine, which hew much more closely to golden-age models. The quality of individual commentaries naturally varies, but for every pedestrian plod like the entry for J.S. Fletcher’s The Middle Temple Murder, there are three sharp evocations like those of A.A. Milne’s The Red House Mystery, Rupert Penny’s She Had to Have Gas, and Helen Simpson’s Vantage Striker.
Even the most quarrelsome readers, their blood pressures duly raised, will take comfort in comprehensive indexes that list titles and authors that didn’t make the top 100.