Next week, I will revert to my usual Friday pattern of a Forgotten Book which is a crime novel (and the author I have in mind is a very good exponent of Golden Age fiction.) Today, though, as a further tribute to the late Bob Adey, whose funeral took place this week, I'd like to talk about another "book about the books". This time it's a title from 1997, Criminal Sentences, by Steve Haste.
I've mentioned this book once or twice before, but I've yet to find anyone else who has read it. Surely there must be someone out there who shares my enthusiasm for it? The sub-title is self-explanatory: "True crime in fiction in drama." This is a book about real life cases that inspired crime fiction, a subject which, I would argue, is of great importance to any understanding of the genre's history and development. Because, from Poe, Collins and Conan Doyle onwards, crime writers have made great use of "true crime" in their fiction.
I don't claim that Haste's book is totally comprehensive. There are some notable novels inspired by fiction which are not mentioned, along with a number of rather obscure titles that have been overlooked. And there are a number of significant murder cases that are not covered either. But that is inevitable in a pioneering work of this kind. It's not possible to cover everything, and it would be futile to pretend otherwise.
Haste does a great job of summarising the cases, and then listing works of fiction derived from them. Many are Golden Age titles, but there are many others. He writes in a concise style, and that's a strength in this sort of reference book. The particular joy that comes from reading this book is the chance to seek out books of which one was previously unaware, where they fictionalise interesting crimes. If I read a "book about books", I like to be pointed to unfamiliar titles that I might enjoy reading (this is part of the reason why I've always admired Julian Symons' Bloody Murder.) Steve Haste's book does this, in an unfussy and enjoyable way. Will there ever be a second, updated edition? I have never met or had any contact with Mr Haste, but I would love to think he is contemplating a new edition.