Over the years, I’ve contributed to quite a number of reference books about crime fiction, including The Oxford Companion to Crime and Mystery Writing, edited by Rosemary Herbert. But the very first book for which I wrote an essay about the genre was 100 Great Detectives, edited by Maxim Jakbowski.
My subject was an amateur sleuth whose few cases I have much enjoyed, This was Francis Pettigrew, created by Cyril Hare. He is a barrister, who becomes involved in mysteries against his will. The classic Pettigrew case is A Tragedy at Law, a unique masterpiece, but all of Hare’s books are worth reading. They have stood the test of time pretty well.
The idea of the book in a nutshell was that each detective would be the subject to an essay by a crime writer or critic who was enthusiastic about the particular character. The concept worked very well, I thought. The variety of styles of the essays is a part of the book’s charm.
Of course, the snag with such a book is always that some deserving detective characters are bound to be left out. Even so, the coverage was wide and eclectic. Not surprisingly, Maxim won an Anthony Award for the book. It has a quirky charm, but it’s also packed with fascinating material by a remarkable range of contributors.