Another book I picked up at Hay-on-Wye was Victorian Villainies, a book I first read not long after it came out in 1984. It’s an omnibus volume of four books, selected by Graham Greene and his brother Hugh, and with an introduction by Hugh. The brothers were very keen collectors of Victorian mysteries, and produced a rather rare bibliography of key titles. This omnibus was the product of their desire to give new life to forgotten tales.
Hugh laments in his introduction the disappearance of so many second hand bookshops. The trend has, of course, continued in the past quarter of a century. On the credit side, Hay has developed into a wonderful booktown, and now there are booktowns across Europe. And the internet (notably Abebooks and eBay) has made life easier in many ways for those seeking obscure titles.
Of the four books in the omnibus, the most renowned is The Beetle by Richard Marsh, and this is the story I remember best from my original reading. But another good one is In the Fog, by Richard Harding Davis, an American war correspondent who wrote no other detective fiction. The other titles are The Great Tontine, by Hawley Smart, which concerns ‘the unforeseen dangers of trying to make money in a lottery’ and The Rome Express, by Arthur Griffith.
One of my partners with an interest in crime fiction delightedly informed me the other day that he’d been asked to draft a tontine agreement. He asked me what was my favourite crime novel featuring a tontine and I mentioned The Wrong Box by Robert Louis Stevenson. I’d forgotten Smart’s book all over again.