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Dungeon House

Q&A With Martin Edwards

3 January 2017

Martin Edwards is a renowned name in the world of crime fiction.

Whether it’s creating must read characters in either his Lake District Mysteries, Liverpool series or his various stand-alone books or mapping out the history of the genre in one of his non-fiction titles, he’s helped keep crime fiction at the forefront of everyone’s literary list. Working with the British Library he’s also shone a light on some authors that may had been forgotten in the years gone by but now their work has been brought to a brand new audience. With Magna Large Print Books publishing the seventh title in Martin’s Lake District Mysteries series, The Dungeon House, we sat down to discuss his new book, classic crime and the importance of libraries.

You boast an encyclopaedic knowledge of crime, having actually written a few crime encyclopaedias! Can you remember the first crime book you read and if it was an instant love for the genre or was it a certain book that started your fascination?
Yes, I remember vividly that I started reading Agatha Christie’s The Murder At The Vicarage at the age of eight, and I was hooked at once. Even at that tender age, I thought I would love to be a writer of detective novels – but it took another twenty-plus years to achieve that ambition!

As well as being an award-winning crime writer, you’ve also spent over 30 years as a legal consultant. Do you feel your day job has had an effect on your writing?
It’s certainly reduced the available time! I have enjoyed being a solicitor, and I’ve been lucky to have two fascinating careers. I was an equity partner, running a large business for many years, and that certainly got in the way of my writing at times, but the upside was that I wasn’t financially dependent on writing for the market. I’ve always written the kind of books I wanted to write, in the way I want to write them, and in the long run, that has been a huge benefit. Legal training and writing legal books and articles also helped me with my non-fiction crime writing, such as The Golden Age Of Murder and The Story Of Classic Crime In 100 Books.

What first drew you to writing crime fiction? Have you tried your hand at other genres?
That early love of Agatha Christie meant I always wanted to write crime. And that includes non-fiction true crime and books about the genre. As well as eight legal books and many articles, I’ve published one or two supernatural stories, one or two horror stories, and one set in the future. But I’m first and foremost a crime writer, and always will be.

Ulverscroft’s sister company Magna Large Print Books will be publishing your seventh Lake District Mystery, The Dungeon House in October. How would you describe the series to new readers?
The Lake District setting plays a very important part in the series; I doubt those particular stories could be set anywhere else. But interesting plots are also important to me and I try to offer something fresh with each book. Characters are also key, and the two protagonists are DCI Hannah Scarlett, in charge of the Cold Case team, and historian Daniel Kind. Their gradually developing relationship is the pivot of the series, but each book can be read independently and the books can be read in any order. The Dungeon House is set on the fascinating West Coast of Cumbria, and is one of my personal favourites of the novels I’ve written.

For long-time fans of the series, what can they expect from this installment and will there be an eighth on the way?
The Dungeon House contains the characters and elements that regular readers would expect, but it’s written in a fresh way, with four introductory chapters describing the build-up to a terrible crime twenty years ago. What happened then seems to be clear, but mysterious events in the present day cause Hannah to look again at the old case.

Yes, I have planned a storyline for the next book in the series, although it’s not written up as yet!

Recently we’ve seen a number of crime and mystery novels adapted for television. If you were to take the role of a casting agent, who would you choose for the roles of Daniel Kind and Hannah Scarlett?
The Lake District Mysteries have already been optioned for TV on two separate occasions. Alas, no TV series has yet been made, but I live in hope that it will be third time lucky! One thing I’ve learned is not to have very definite ideas about casting, since TV works in its own mysterious way, and you never quite know what to expect…

Earlier in the year you chaired the widely attended Bodies From The Library conference at The British Library. Why do you think a love for classic crime has sustained whilst older authors in other genres have been lost? 
Classic crime is enjoying a huge and international revival at present. I’ve been lucky enough to talk about it in places as diverse as Madrid, Dubai, Hawaii, and Washington DC this year – as well as Worksop and Newcastle! But this revival is quite a new thing – until recently many of the old books had long been out of print and forgotten. The British Library Crime Classics series has helped to drive up interest, hence The Story Of Classic Crime In 100 Books. Long may the revival continue!

As for the comparison with other genres, I think that crime stories, whever written, often provide a fascinating picture of the times when they were written – even if that wasn’t the author’s main aim. And the appeal of a puzzle is enduring and universal.

You’ve been a strong force behind the resurgence in interest in the genre, with your work as series consultant for the British Library’s wildly successful Crime Classics series. How did this partnership come together?
Quite by chance. I met the series editor, who asked me to write a couple of introductions to books by John Bude. The books sold very well, and sales continued to rise as more and more classics were revived. It’s been great fun, and exciting to see so many long-forgotten authors being rediscovered after years of neglect.

A number of authors who were previously forgotten about before the Crime Classics series have been brought back into the public’s consciousness because of the popularity of the series. Is there a particularly author you’d like to see feature that hasn’t yet?

Milward Kennedy is one example. Bruce Hamilton is another. And the list goes on. Often there are complications such as tracing the copyright owners. So it can be a slow process bringing a book back to print. But the effort is well worth while. Next year will see the long-awaited return to print of Richard Hull and E.C. R. Lorac, two major Golden Age authors, and very different from each other.

Your books are made available to libraries in large print through Magna Large Print and audiobook format via Soundings Audio. How important is the library service to you and do you have any fond memories you could share with us?
Extremely important. That’s why, in my capacity as Chair of The Crime Writers' Association, I’ve appointed our first ever Libraries Champion, with a view to strengthening the relationship, and why I’m seeking to expand National Crime Reading Month in partnership with libraries nationwide.

I vividly recall, at a tender age, hearing my father tell me that he liked the crime novels of the American Harry Stephen Keeler. So I went to the adult section of the Northwich Library, and checked the catalogue, but only found one book by Keeler in it. When I asked for a copy of The Steeltown Strangler, the staff looked at this macabre young boy with some astonishment. Alas, the book was out of stock. They’d lost it. And twenty years passed before I tracked down another Keeler book…

And finally, a library has been a common setting for a number of classic crimes. What’s your favourite library from literature?
Because of my long term enthusiasm for Christie, it has to be the library in Gossington Hall featured in her The Body in the Library!