I've been pleased by the reaction on social media to my big news - the announcement in the Bookseller of my forthcoming history of mystery, The Life of Crime, to be published by HarperCollins. The sub-title is Unravelling the Mysteries of Fiction's Favourite Genre, and the book is due to land on the shelves on 12 May 2022. It will land quite noisily, because the book is no slim volume. It's about a quarter of a million words long, even after ruthless (believe me!) cutting.
I've been interested in the idea of writing a history of the genre for a very long time. In the 1980s, I kept a card index detailing authors, books, and topics of interest, but other things got in the way and the index gathered dust. Then, in the mid-90s, I had a conversation with fellow author Andrew Taylor, during a St Hilda's crime fiction conference, which stuck in my mind. He said to me that I really should try to write a book that was in effect an update of Julian Symons' Bloody Murder, the study of the genre that he and I greatly admire. Andrew is someone whose opinions I greatly respect. The fact that, even in those far-off days, he thought I was capable of such a feat stuck in my mind. I was flattered, but a bit daunted.
As things turned out, it wasn't until The Golden Age of Murder was published that I turned my mind in earnest to the idea of writing a history of the genre. I knew that it would be a mega-project, and by then I also knew that it would be a very, very different book from Bloody Murder. There are several reasons for this; one of them is that each chapter will begin with a vignette from the life of a particular writer. Symons, in contrast, didn't bother much with biographical details. One of the reasons why I chose this focus was that over the course of my career as a published novelist, I've given many talks on the theme of 'My Life of Crime' and I find that readers' appetites for information about writing careers is boundless. This book seeks to cater to that demand, but in a rather different way than did The Golden Age of Murder.
I'm very excited about this book. I realise that it's impossible to please all readers, or to say everything about every author and novel that deserves to be said. But Bloody Murder came out in 1972, and since then, there hasn't been anything comparable in terms of scope and influence. I've put a lot of energy and enthusiasm into The Life of Crime and I hope that, whether or not they agree with what I have to say, people will find it not only informative and interesting but an entertaining read.