Condensing the history of crime fiction into 122 pages Is a challenge that Richard Bradford wins. The output is an informative and thoroughly enjoyable little volume that takes us from Sophocles through to Nordic Noir.
Sophocles? Bradford argues that Oedipus Is a precursor of the modern detective in that he conducts a meticulous investigation to unmask the murderer of his predecessor. Other antecedents throughout the ages, from Herodotus to Shakespeare to Fielding are discussed too. Moving into the C19th, he argues that while Poe created the first recognisable detective in Dupin, the stories in Murders in the Rue Morgue were conceived more as philosophical exercises than crime stories. The C19th sensation novels were the real precursors of what was to come with Collins laying the foundations of the English detective novel in The Moonstone.
Thereafter Bradford discusses the main stations in the development of crime fiction: the golden age, hard-boiled, and the transitions to modern day crime fiction and its sub-genres. The usual suspects are mentioned, Conan Doyle, Christie, Sayers, Chandler, Cain and Hammett plus famous contemporary writers from both sides of the pond. There’s space here too for less widely known writers and in discussing these, Bradford often reveals his personal tastes (which clearly do not gel with mine.)
I particularly enjoyed chapter 3 Transitions in which Bradford discusses the metamorphosis of crime fiction into the forms and perspectives that prevail today and chapter 4 which is devoted to International Crime Fiction.
Even though this is not a comprehensive overview, there are plenty of recommendations here for those looking for such. As I read, I jotted down titles in my TBR. It turned into quite a list, a surprising one at that with entries from Chekhov, Schiller and (Ellen) Wood. I am, though, rather inclined to undertake this unexpected journey into the classics. My first stop will be Ancient Greece. I’m off to meet Oedipus!