I've always enjoyed reading introductions to books. Probably the first that I remember reading, as a schoolboy, was an introduction to an edition of The Moonstone that was in the school library. I suppose I was twelve or thirteen at the time, and I was interested to learn more about the context of the story. Before long, I read a series published by Hodder of classics of mystery and adventure, which had short but pithy intros by the great Michael Gilbert.
It was Gilbert who introduced me to notable books such as Philip MacDonald's The White Crow, Anthony Berkeley's Trial and Error, Raymond Postgate's Verdict of Twelve, Henry Wade's Lonely Magdalen, and Christianna Brand's Heads You Lose. What a great series that was! I discovered many years later that some of the facts in Gilbert's intros, for instance in Verdict of Twelve, weren't accurate, but this wasn't a big deal - what mattered was that he communicated genuine enthusiasm plus an understanding of the challenges facing fellow authors. I also devoured intros to classic novels by Dickens and others. For me, reading and thinking about what was said in introductions formed part of my education.
Fast forward to the 1990s, and I was engaged, along with various other CWA members, to write intros to the Black Dagger series of reprinted crime novels - hardbacks targeted at the library market. I really enjoyed this experience, and covered quite a few books, ranging from Cornell Woolrich's The Bride Wore Black to Margot Bennett's The Man Who Didn't Fly. It was a shame when that series came to an end, but I continued to write occasional intros for other publishers when invited.
In recent times, I've written intros for The Red Right Hand by Joel Townsley Rogers, and several books published (or to be published) by Harper Collins, including Ask a Policeman. And then there's the British Library programme of Crime Classics. At the time of writing, I've written 34 introductions for the BL series ,a tally that includes five anthologies. The majority of these books are still in the pipeline and will appear over the course of the next two years..
Why do I enjoy doing what some might regard as a chore? Of course, it's a privilege to have the opportunity to talk about notable books. But there's more to it than that. When I read a book, knowing that I need to write about it in an introduction, it somehow seems to sharpen my approach to it. Naturally, I don't have an equally high opinion of every single book. So how can I express my views in a clear way that is helpful to the reader, truthful and informative, yet reasonably positive? This can sometimes be a challenge, but it's actually a good way of trying to hone my writing skills.
And there's another benefit I've found in recent months. I've drawn on reminiscences from family members of deceased authors, and these have been riveting. I've met several pleasant people as a result. And some of the intros that are yet to be published will, I like to think, cast fresh light on the life and work of some of the authors of British Library Crime Classics.