Mysterious Pleasures

Knowing that the Crime Writers Association was due to celebrate its Golden Jubilee in December 2003, it struck me that the world of crime fiction had changed almost beyond recognition since the CWA was first established. What better way, then, to celebrate the Golden Jubilee than by putting together a book that would reflect the way in which the CWA had celebrated and championed the best in the field of murder and mystery for the past 50 years?

When I put the idea to the CWA Committee, they were enthusiastic and supportive. The immediate question, though, was whether a publisher could be found in a short space of time who would be willing to take on the project. For the book that I had in mind was to be additional to the CWA’s usual themed anthology, which at that time appeared under the imprint of Jim Driver’s The Do-Not Press; work on the latest book for Do-Not (Green for Danger: crime in the countryside) was already well advanced.

Luckily, a CWA member who is also a distinguished editor, Hilary Hale of Time Warner, was enormously enthusiastic about supporting the project and a deal was quickly struck. We decided that it should be a trade paperback and the next challenge was to decide how to tackle the tricky question of choice of content. We had in mind a collection of crime short stories which would be representative of the genre at its best and be very appealing to a modern readership. But we were also keen to offer buyers of the book an insight into the way in which the most notable practitioners had developed the crime story over the years.

The solution, Hilary and I decided, was to have at the heart of the book stories written by distinguished winners of CWA Daggers, including in particular the CWA Cartier Diamond Dagger – the highest honour that the CWA bestows, a “lifetime achievement” award for sustained excellence in the field. We also felt it important to include representative work by some of those who were prominent in the early days of the CWA’s life.

Although I had previously edited a dozen anthologies of crime writing, it was a fresh experience for me to deal with the estates of deceased writers. I wondered if it would be tricky, but the reaction to the project was utterly heartening. I got to know Richard Creasey, the son of the CWA’s legendary founder, John Creasey, who first acquired more rejection slips than any other writer and then – once he got his foot in the publishing door – produced over 500 novels as well as short stories. Richard was a successful TV executive, who remains hopeful that one day his father’s best work will return to the small screen (I grew up with John Gregson’s portrayal of Gideon of the Yard as a family TV viewing fixture.) It was fascinating to talk to Richard about his father and learn that, in pretty much every aspect of his life, John Creasey was an energetic ideas man and relentless achiever.

Others, including the families of Eric Ambler and Leslie Charteris and representatives of the Margery Allingham Society, were equally helpful and generous. From the son of Cyril Hare (a judge who wrote several masterpieces of classic detection) I discovered much more about Hare’s little known short stories. As a bonus, I had the pleasure of reading the brief manuscript of the novel (alas, never published) that Hare was working on at the time of his sudden death; it features Dr Bottwink, the hero of that splendid book An English Murder. Equally enjoyable was the invitation to read several crisp short stories written in the 1960s by Ellis Peters long before she earned fame as the creator of Brother Cadfael. Eventually, we obtained permission to include stories by all but two of those who have won the Diamond Dagger, one of the exceptions being an apologetic John Le Carre, who does not really do short fiction.

Just as important to the success of the project was the inclusion of brand new stories by the stars of today. Eventually, we approached eight leading writers and – to my amazement, as well as delight – all of them agreed to produce something fresh. So I had the pleasure of receiving terrific new stories by the likes of Ian Rankin, Reg Hill, Val McDermid and Peter Lovesey. Lindsey Davis came up with a contribution that is a “sort of” Falco story (you have to read it to get the picture).

This just left us with the task of deciding what to call the book. Various suggestions were made, but ultimately we settled on Mysterious Pleasures. It is a title I like, but in a sense there is nothing too mysterious about the pleasures to be had from reading the work of many of the best crime writers of the past half century. The list of contents below speaks for itself.

Margery Allingham – “One Morning They’ll Hang Him”
Eric Ambler – “The Blood Bargain”
Robert Barnard – “Everybody’s Girl”
Leslie Charteris – “The Mystery Of The Child’s Toy”
John Creasey – “The Chief Witness”
Lionel Davidson – “Indian Rope Trick”
Lindsey Davis – “Something Spooky On Geophys”
Colin Dexter – “The Double Crossing”
Dick Francis – “The Gift”
Antonia Fraser – “The Twist”
Michael Gilbert – “Judith”
Cyril Hare – “Name Of Smith”
Reginald Hill – “The Game Of Dog”
H R F Keating – “The Hound Of The Hanging Gardens”
Peter Lovesey – “The Man Who Jumped For England”
Ed McBain – “The Interview”
Val McDermid – “The Consolation Blonde”
Sara Paretsky – “At The ‘Century Of Progress’”
Ellis Peters – “Guilt of Doom”
Ian Rankin – “Tell Me Who To Kill”
Ruth Rendell – “When The Wedding Was Over”
Julian Symons – “The Tigers Of Subtopia”
Margaret Yorke – “Mugs”