Thursday, 14 August 2008

True crime and fiction

One of the appealing features of The Suspicions of Mr Whicher is the way that, as Kate Summerscale describes, the case of Constance Kent influenced Victorian detective fiction. Dickens and Collins were the most famous writers whose work would have been different without Whicher, but there were various others, including Mrs Braddon, whose celebrated Lady Audley’s Secret was published the year after the murder at Road Hill House.

Quite apart from novelists whose work were influenced by the Kent case, but it’s also interesting to see that several writers were fascinated by the crime for its own sake. Cecil Street, generally thought of as the prolific ‘humdrum’ creator of endless novels under the names of John Rhode, Miles Burton and Cecil Waye, wrote a book about the mystery, called simply The Case of Constance Kent, which appeared under the Rhode by-line in 1928.

He developed the story in his contribution to The Anatomy of Murder, a collection put together under the auspices of the Detection Club. Of Street’s fellow Golden Age authors, Anthony Berkeley and Dorothy L. Sayers in particular were keen students of true crime. So was Raymond Chandler, who was especially intrigued by the Crippen and Maybrick cases.

Many years after the Detection Club book appeared, Harry Keating edited a book of true crime stories for the Crime Writers’ Association. Some of the anthologies of regional crime that I edited in the 90s also contained snippets of true crime. And one day I’d like to compile an anthology solely devoted to factual, rather than fictional, stories of crime.

4 comments:

Annie Wicking said...

Hi,
I found your blog to be very interesting to read.

Best wishes,
Annie

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks, Annie, and good luck with your own writing.

vegetableduck said...

Oops. I see you mention the Rhode book here. Can make a few comments about it if you'd like. I take it the author of the new book references Rhode?

Rhode's style I'm sure is dryer!

Martin Edwards said...

Hi Curt, comments would be very welcome. Thanks.