Wednesday 12 December 2007

Edward and Edgar

I discovered not so long ago a remote family connection to someone from an earlier generation who had an interest in the crime genre. Edward Shanks (1892-1953) was my late father-in-law’s cousin (told you it was remote) and he was best known as a poet and critic, but on occasion he strayed into our territory.

Shanks’ novels include Old King Cole (1936), which was re-titled The Green Circle in the US. It’s an unusual, almost eccentric piece of work about dark doings in a mysterious English village - shades of Port Meirion and ‘The Prisoner’. Intriguing and eerie, but I felt the quality of the writing deserved a more powerful story-line.

The following year, Shanks published a readable account of the life and work of Edgar Allan Poe, which deals succinctly, but admiringly, with Poe’s massive contribution to the detective genre. He makes the point that Poe ‘saw himself’ as his detective, Dupin and sighs: ‘It is a pity that Poe could not levied an anticipatory tax of, say, one per cent on the earnings of his most illustrious followers, some of whom have been paid for a single story almost as much as Poe earned during his life.’ He notes the combination of ‘an astonishing grasp of technique’ with a ‘peculiar imagination’ and concludes that ‘today the brood of Dupin walks abroad in a thousand books a year.’

In recent times, Poe’s remarkable life has inspired increasing interest – most notably, perhaps, with Andrew Taylor’s breakout novel, The American Boy. His biographer Shanks is, however, all but forgotten.

1 comment:

Xavier said...

Poe in my opinion is more than a genius: he was, and still is, indispensable. Literature as we know it wouldn't exist without him. Even those loathing him have a debt to him.
I hope some brave publisher brings someday to English-speaking readers French author Georges Walter's masterpiece "EnquĂȘte sur Edgar Allan Poe" which I regard as the definitive biography of Dupin's father.