The Butler Did It

Martin Edwards on the history of mystery

Some of Harry Bennett’s illustrations for the 1961 Perma Books editions of Dashiell Hammett’s <em>The Dain Curse, The Maltese Falcon,</em> and <em>Red Harvest</em>
Some of Harry Bennett’s illustrations for the 1961 Perma Books editions of Dashiell Hammett’s The Dain Curse, The Maltese Falcon, and Red Harvest

Long before the advent of true crime podcasts, 17th-century murder pamphlets sold like hotcakes in England, and dubious criminal “autobiographies” were sold at executions. On the eve of the 19th century, William Godwin published Things as They Are; or the Adventures of Caleb Williams, identified by this week’s guest, Martin Edwards, as the “first thriller about a manhunt”—and a blueprint for how detective novelists would go on to construct the whodunnit. Edwards should know. He’s the eighth president of the Detection Club and the author of dozens of crime novels (and about a thousand articles about other people’s mysteries). Now he has written A Life of Crime, the first major history of the genre in more than 50 years, distilling two centuries of crime fiction from around the world, from the Golden Age of Agatha Christie and company to the realm of contemporary Japan.

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Stephanie Bastek is the senior editor of the Scholar and the producer/host of the Smarty Pants podcast.


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