Thursday 18 December 2008

Great British Fictional Detectives

I’ve been asked to review Russell James’ new book, Great British Fictional Detectives, for Tangled Web UK. It will be a pleasure, because it’s a fascinating book to dip into, crammed with information and lavishly illustrated.

Russell is himself an accomplished crime novelist, the author of dark books such as Underground. He’s a former chairman of the Crime Writers’ Association, and I’ve known him for quite a long time. In compiling this book, he’s achieved a nice balance between including material about current writers’ detectives (there is a section about my own Harry Devlin, I’m glad to say) and those of the past.

The trouble with most reference books like this is that they travel over very familiar ground. Russell James has taken great pains to include material about obscure characters as well as their famous counterparts. There are quite a few I’ve never heard of: examples include Peter Darrington (created by Douglas V. Duff, equally unknown to me), Mallin and Coe (Roger Ormerod) and Constable Kerr (Roderic Jeffries.)

The eclectic coverage is one of the great merits of this appealing book. The illustrations are a real plus, and there are plenty of lists of selected sidekicks, tv detectives and so on. Mark Billingham contributes an introduction. This is a book aimed at the general reader rather than the academic, and would make a good stocking filler (though it would have to be quite a large stocking.) The publishers are Remember When, an imprint of Pen & Sword, and the production values are high.

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