Rob Davies of the British Library tells the story:
Editing the British Library Crime Classics series involves a surprising number of happy accidents. Searching the Library’s catalogue for Christmas titles led us to The Santa Klaus Murder; an advert in the first edition of that novel set me on to the work of John Bude; and so on.
I am often conscious that my own reading of crime fiction – which is mostly contemporary and international – leaves me with a shaky knowledge of the golden age books which we are reissuing. Once we had published a few novels that were warmly received – and selling in numbers far beyond our expectations – I was aware that we couldn’t continue in too haphazard a fashion when we were reaching out to a staggeringly knowledgeable community of fans. I began to ask myself questions about what we were doing: how these novels related to the canon of classic authors whose work had not fallen out of print; which other books and authors GA crime readers had been wanting to see reprinted; and how we could ensure the long-term success of the series at a time when GA crime was beginning to enjoy its time in the limelight.
Luckily a chance email to Martin – when I was attempting to trace the descendants of a founder member of the CWA – elicited the first in a long series of conversations that have answered these questions, and many more. Since agreeing to act as a consultant to the series, Martin has contributed a stream of carefully researched introductions to set new titles in context, and I receive enough emails from readers to know how welcome this attention to detail has been. He has edited three anthologies (with at least another four on the way), which have bucked the trend for short stories to sell in small numbers, much to the delight of this short-story fan at least. I’ve continued to ask Martin for ideas and recommendations on a weekly basis, and he has put us on the trail of several books that have become notable successes, most obviously Mystery in White, which entered the bestseller charts for a few exciting weeks last winter.
In many ways the publication this spring of The Golden Age of Murder – albeit not by the British Library – was greatly important to us, as it cemented Martin’s reputation as the authority on the golden age and, surely, the most phenomenally well-read of its many devotees. The book also became a much-thumbed reference in the office, covered with Post-It notes marking novels that are now top of my TBR list. It has spurred future plans for the series, and I’m excited to have acquired rights in a couple of standout titles Martin covers, which combine excellent plotting with literary quality – true neglected classics.
It’s not possible to acquire rights in all the novels we discuss, and there have been occasions when our own ideas and discoveries in the archives lead to reissues of books so obscure that even Martin hasn’t read them; but this has been an extremely fruitful and enjoyable collaboration over the last couple of years, and long may it continue.
Martin and I shared a platform at the Agatha Christie Festival in September, talking about the series and our plans for the future. And we enjoyed it so much that our double act will return to other venues before too long!