This week for Friday Reads, the Impress team are taking you back in time with a few titles that mark the genesis and early evolution of crime fiction. Crime fiction began its journey as weekly serialised chapters in the penny presses from the 1830s onwards and became a popular genre among all classes of society. Readers became hooked on certain stories and their reaction on occasion had an impact on the next chapter’s plot. Our Friday Reads this week celebrates sensation literature at its best.
“The Purloined Letter” by Edgar Allan Poe (1844)
This is a short story featuring the fictional detective C. Auguste Dupin and, like Collins’ The Moonstone, is considered one of the forerunners of detective fiction. This story works on the premise of a compromising letter stolen from an unnamed female character, which is then used for blackmailing purposes.
The String of Pearls: A Romance (1846–7)
Otherwise known by its shorthand title of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, this story follows the barber Sweeney Todd as he picks off his rich customers one by one and disposes of them through Mrs Lovett, whose meat pies are renowned for their flavour. This was originally published in eighteen weekly parts and it is thought that there were two authors contributing to this volume. Each chapter leaves you on a cliffhanger and contains a potent level of gore and fear, making it one of the original slasher stories.
Lady Audley’s Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon (1862)
This is a detective novel set very much within the domestic space and centres around “accidental bigamy”. Lady Audley’s past is a mystery and when George Talboys comes to Sir Michael Audley, desperate for news of his wife Helen, Lady Audley’s past is thrown under suspicion. Braddon is a good example of writers singing for their supper: with 11 children and no husband to support her, she is the author of 80 novels of which Lady Audley’s Secret is her best-known work.
The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins (1868)
This epistolary novel is generally considered as one of the first in detective fiction alongside Collins’ next best novel The Woman in White. Our protagonist, Rachel Verinder, is left a large inheritance including a large Indian diamond, which is later stolen. Collins alternates between the narratives of different characters to eventually recover the stone and was originally serialised in Charles Dickens’ magazine All the Year Round.
The Sherlock Holmes Collection by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1887–1927)
This collection of 4 novels and 56 short stories is arguably one of the best celebrations of the evolution of crime fiction through serialisation. Featuring the detective Sherlock Holmes and his companion Doctor John Watson, the narrator of the stories, we follow the pair through an array of murders and intrigues. Conan Doyle’s stories were published in The Strand Magazine with illustrations by Sidney Paget. The stories became so popular that public outcry after the Reichenbach Falls story saw Conan Doyle bring back the much loved detective.
Looking for some new crime fiction from the Impress shelves?
He’s Gone by Alex Clare
How do you find a missing child when his mother doesn’t believe you have the right to even exist? When Detective Inspector Roger Bailley returns to work as Robyn, all she wants is to get on with the job she loves while finally being herself. When three-year-old Ben Chivers is snatched from a shopping centre on her first day back at work, Robyn has to find Ben – and herself – as she deals with the reactions of her police colleagues, the media and her own daughter. Described as a ground-breaking novel, He’s Gone is available in paperback and ebook now.
The Seven Trials of Cameron-Strange by James Calum Campbell
Just when the bereaved and troubled Dr Alastair Cameron-Strange rediscovers his life on the other side of the world, the British authorities track him down. They recruit him on a mission which takes him to the farthest reaches of New Zealand, to Xanadu with all its grotesque gargoyles, chief among them Phineas Fox, the American business tycoon whose baleful eye is on the White House. There’s something not quite right about Mr Fox, and Cameron-Strange, with the help of the beautiful Nikki, is determined to find out what it is. He survives six ordeals, but will he survive a seventh?
This is the second in the series of Cameron-Strange thrillers and is available for preorder now.
Smoke and Adders by Jennie Finch
Alex Hastings – probation officer and idealist – still believes in the good in other people, but the little town of Highpoint is becoming a very dangerous place for her. An arsonist is starting fires on the Somerset Levels and a sexual predator stalks the streets looking for his next, perfect victim. As the summer heat turns the surrounding countryside to tinder, Alex must deal with this fresh wave of criminal activity under the increasingly watchful eye of the Senior Officer. As her friends settle into new lives, Alex hopes for a brighter future, but will the increasing pressures of her work stand in the way? This is the last instalment in the Alex Hastings series and is available for preorder now.