Sunday, December 22, 2013

Favourite Discoveries 2013 (I)

As usual I have asked my fellow Euro Crime reviewers to come up with their top 5 reads of 2013 - these will be collated and announced in early January. Like the previous two years, I have also asked them what their favourite crime fiction discovery of the past year - be it book, film or tv series - has been.

The first entry comes from Rich Westwood who has chosen a publisher.

Rich Westwood's Favourite Discovery of 2013

My favourite discovery of 2013 isn't an author, a book, or a TV show, but a publisher.

The British Library began publishing crime fiction taken from its archives last year, and has really gone for it this year, with a few choice selections. Both the texts and their production values are high quality. The books have excellent covers (THE SANTA KLAUS MURDER is possibly the most striking), and also feel much nicer than most publishers' paperbacks - dense yet flexible.

Charles Warren Adams' THE NOTTING HILL MYSTERY is usually regarded as the first detective novel - it was published in 1862. Its narrator, the perplexed detective Ralph Henderson, is forced to blame a mesmerist for an impossible crime, even though he refuses to believe in mesmerism.

They have also unearthed the earliest female protagonists in crime fiction.

William Stephens Hayward's REVELATIONS OF A LADY DETECTIVE was one of my books of the year - a wildly Victorian romp full of disguises and moustache-twirling villains.

Andrew Forrester's THE FEMALE DETECTIVE feels like a more serious contender for a place in the canon. Miss Gladden, our heroine (Gladden’s not her real name, and her friends think she is a dressmaker) shares a collection of tales from different stages of her career as a detective.

MR BAZALGETTE'S AGENT is an easy-to-read Victorian novel, although difficult to categorise as crime fiction (it's actually more like chick lit). Leonard Merrick was a respected Victorian novelist who hated, this, his first book, to the extent that he would buy up and destroy copies. I liked it a lot.

And to cap it all, back in January the Library also staged a lovely little exhibition of crime fiction. Amongst other treasures I saw Conan Doyle’s original manuscript of ‘The Adventure of the Retired Colourman’ (extremely neat writing), Walter Eberhart’s 1933 THE JIG-SAW PUZZLE MURDER (complete with jigsaw), and a 'crime dossier’ created by Dennis ‘The Devil Rides Out’ Wheatley. This featured included real clues, including a lock of human hair, used ticket stubs, and fag ends in little cellophane pockets.

Rich Westwood

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