When you write a book that you care about (and why write a book that you don't care about?), it's natural to wonder about how it will be received. Because I've devoted so many years to researching as well as writing, The Golden Age of Murder, and also, if this doesn't sound too pretentious, invested a great deal of emotional energy and passion for the genre's traditions in the book, I'm probably as much on tenterhooks about its reception as I've been for any of my novels, even including the first,
I have, though, received both help and comfort from a number of wise people who read drafts of the book at different stages (and this is a book that has been much revised over the long years when it was a work-in-progress). They were all people I trusted to be supportive yet honest with me about the book, and I'll say more about their invaluable input on another occasion, but they include both fellow novelists and leading experts on Golden Age fiction. They all expressed enthusiasm for the versions they saw, and this gave me enormous encouragement.
But still, one wonders how people one doesn't know will respond! Will they be equally forbearing? This was put to the test late last year, when my publishers, Harper Collins, decided to invite a leading writer to read the book, and express an opinion. The distinguished author in question was the legendary Len Deighton, someone I once said hello to at a dinner twenty years ago, but whom otherwise I didn't know. Len has lived abroad for many years, and although I've been a fan of his books since discovering them in my teens, we had never corresponded.
To my delight, Len not only agreed to read the book, but devoured it very quickly (and it is a very long book, so this in itself was quite something!) He even supplied me with a wonderful story about his early encounters with Agatha Christie, which amused me greatly. On request, he allowed me to include it in an end note.
Len has been one of the world's most respected writers of popular fiction for decades, but he is not someone who is often quoted in relation to other books, and this makes the comments he made even more precious to me. This is what he had to say:
"You don't have to be a fan of 'whodunits' to enjoy this amazing story of their creators and their works. Here you will meet the Detection Club; a still existent and somewhat incongruous band of writers. Elected by secret ballot, their lives were seemingly stranger than fiction. I admire the way that Martin Edwards weaves the sometimes violent, sometimes unlawful, and always gripping, true stories of these writers with the equally wild tales they tell in their books.
I must admit that I love that phrase "a new way of looking at old favourites". Suffice to say that Len has hit on precisely what I have tried to achieve with The Golden Age of Murder.