Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Victorian Villainies


Another book I picked up at Hay-on-Wye was Victorian Villainies, a book I first read not long after it came out in 1984. It’s an omnibus volume of four books, selected by Graham Greene and his brother Hugh, and with an introduction by Hugh. The brothers were very keen collectors of Victorian mysteries, and produced a rather rare bibliography of key titles. This omnibus was the product of their desire to give new life to forgotten tales.

Hugh laments in his introduction the disappearance of so many second hand bookshops. The trend has, of course, continued in the past quarter of a century. On the credit side, Hay has developed into a wonderful booktown, and now there are booktowns across Europe. And the internet (notably Abebooks and eBay) has made life easier in many ways for those seeking obscure titles.

Of the four books in the omnibus, the most renowned is The Beetle by Richard Marsh, and this is the story I remember best from my original reading. But another good one is In the Fog, by Richard Harding Davis, an American war correspondent who wrote no other detective fiction. The other titles are The Great Tontine, by Hawley Smart, which concerns ‘the unforeseen dangers of trying to make money in a lottery’ and The Rome Express, by Arthur Griffith.

One of my partners with an interest in crime fiction delightedly informed me the other day that he’d been asked to draft a tontine agreement. He asked me what was my favourite crime novel featuring a tontine and I mentioned The Wrong Box by Robert Louis Stevenson. I’d forgotten Smart’s book all over again.

7 comments:

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

There aren't many second-hand bookstores here in Charlotte, NC. But I went back to my old hometown of Anderson, SC and was delighted to find that the store I'd gone to as a kid with my father was still going strong, thirty years later.

Elizabeth
Mystery Writing is Murder

Martin Edwards said...

That's good to hear - they are to be cherished, aren't they?

Margot Kinberg said...

I've noticed fewer second-hand bookstores, too, and they've always been some of my favorite places to get books and just to spend time. Some of them have personalities all their own..

Dorte H said...

A tontine? I think Miss Marple ponders on it in one of her stories, but as I am not too certain what it is the finer points have escaped me.

Martin Edwards said...

Margaret,I think you are right. And the personality of the bookshop in my next book, The Serpent Pool, was an important element as I was writing the story.

Martin Edwards said...

Dorte, the book you are thinking of is 4.50 From Paddington. Basically, people pay money into the tontine and as each one dies, the money accumulates to the survivors - until there is only one left.....

Dorte H said...

Oh yes, the one with Elspeth McGillicuddy, Lucy Eyelesbarrow and all those Crackenthorpes! (Some names are just better than others).

And I can see that a tontine is a gift to the writer of crime fiction though fortunes and peculiar wills are not really in vogue any more.