Martin Edwards

Serpents in Eden

"There are jewels to be discovered here..."


This book is published by the British Library, under the heading "British Library Crime Classics", showing that the British Library knows what readers like and proving that readers are still very much in love with vintage crime.

Sherlock Holmes, in the story 'The Adventure of the Copper Beeches', declares that "...the lowest and vilest alleys in London do not present a more dreadful record of sin than does the smiling and beautiful countryside..." Here, in this volume edited by Martin Edwards, himself a crime writer, is proof. Thirteen short stories, mostly from Britain's golden age of detective fiction, explore the ghastly goings on in the depths of the English countryside.

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If you expect all-cosy fireside yarns, you'll be disappointed. A few give the semblance of cosiness, but the rest are as hard-hitting and bloodthirsty as urban noir. Some of our finest writers are represented here. Marjory Allingham gives us a wickedly satisfying take on rural innocence in 'A Proper Mystery'. Conan Doyle gives us 'The Black Doctor', a dark tale set in Lancashire. G.K. Chesterton is here as well, with a tale that takes politicians as its inspiration. But there are others, some of them, for me at least, are real discoveries such as Leonora Wodehouse, (PG Wodehouse's step-daughter), and Ethel Lina White, who was well-known in her time, but is now largely marginalised. Her story, 'The Scarecrow', is especially good. Midsomer Murders is ample illustration of the love we have for countryside crime - and the gorier and unsettling the better. Martin Edwards has done a sterling job in editing this collection. Well-known and lesser-known writers come together in a book that is altogether satisfying. Those of you who like your crime to be urban and blood-spattered will be surprised by the content. Yes, some of them verge on the cosy, but even here the deliberate understatement has the power to unsettle and shock the reader. Martin Edwards writes an erudite introduction to the book, and precedes each story with a short introduction that explains its context, with a few biographical sentences on the writer thrown in. There are jewels to be discovered here, and I will now be buying Martin Edward's other vintage collections published by the British Library – 'Murder at the Manor', 'Silent Nights', 'Capital Crimes' and 'Resorting to Murder'. The next time I walk down the mean streets of one of our major cities at midnight, I'll know I am a darn site safer than I would be walking down a country lane as the parish church clock strikes twelve!

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