John Curran is renowned as an expert on Agatha Christie, and his research into her private notebooks broke fresh ground in terms of the analysis of how detective novelists devise their stories. I've referred to his books many times, and I've no doubt that I'll be referring frequently to his latest book, The Hooded Gunman, just published by HarperCollins. It's a detailed assessment of that splendid, and much-missed imprint, the Collins Crime Club. I should disclose that I'm one of those thanked in the acknowledgements at the front of the book, but regardless of that, I can recommend this book unreservedly to all serious students of the genre.
The Hooded Gunman is a beautifully presented book, crammed with full colour illustrations of dust jackets as well as many photographs of great interest to the crime fan. It's the most gorgeous book about the crime genre I've seen since It's All One Case, a superb book about Ross Macdonald's work published three years ago which deserves to be much better known. Terence Caven's design work is admirable.
In one sense The Hooded Gunman is a coffee table book, because of the heavy focus on quality illustrations. But it's much more than that. I'm not quite sure if John has read every single book published under the Crime Club imprint, but I wouldn't be surprised. He's certainly done a huge amount of research, and as a result, the text is more interesting and valuable than is usually the case with coffee table books (something else it has in common with It's All One Case). A large section of the book is devoted to reprinting jacket blurbs which will be a very useful tool for readers who want to consider seeking out particular titles.
There are also several short but informative sections, for instance about Crime Club card games and the dons' detective novel competition judged by Agatha Christie among others. John makes the point that E.C.R. Lorac was particularly well-served by the artists who produced dust jackets for her books, and there's evidence here to substantiate this claim. I've enjoyed reading John's text and I've also had a lot of pleasure simply leafing through this handsome volume, admiring the illustrations. A joy for book lovers, and a very good Christmas present for the detective fan in your life.