Arguably the best consequence of the digital revolution in publishing is that we now live in a world of infinite shelfspace. Publishers don’t have to live with the space restrictions of high street retailers and they don’t have to worry about selling enough books to justify a particular print run.
As a result, books that were out of print can gain a new lease of life. The digital revolution (weirdly) reanimates the past. There are numerous such ventures around at the moment, but one of the most interesting is The Murder Room, a new website from Orion. TMR aims to revive a whole range of fantastic crime novelists from the past and bring them to a fresh audience. Here’s its boss, Julia Silk, to tell us more. (Oh, and please don’t visit the TMR blog. There are some very strange people there …)
The Murder Room project was first proposed to me in July 2011 as a crime version of Orion’s SF Gateway, although at that point it was just ‘the secret crime project’. I was handed a list of crime-writing luminaries who were either out of print or unavailable in ebook, and asked (aptly) to ‘investigate’. But, as they say, one thing led to another and soon I’d moved on from the more obvious names (acquiring some along the way) and was on the trail of dozens of others that I’d stumbled across in the process. Most of their names were initially unfamiliar to me, but – raised on a diet of Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh and Dorothy L. Sayers – I knew this was one challenge I’d never tire of.
I really couldn’t believe what was out there, nor the fact that some of it had been out of print for so long. Authors such as Peter Cheyney, who sold nearly 1.5 million copies of his books in 1946 alone, and whose detective Lemmy Caution had inspired the trenchcoat wearing secret agent of Jean Luc Godard’s Alphaville, was a real find. Dorothy Uhnak I came across through a blog post by Sarah Weinman, an American writer and blogger extraordinaire, and possibly the most knowledgeable person there is on the subject of crime fiction. Uhnak was, in 1953, one of the first female police recruits to the New York City Police Department. By the end of the 1960s she had written three award-winning novels and followed these up with a number of blockbusting crime sagas (her work will be available before the end of the year).
Dozens of Golden Age detective novelists emerged, too, including Ronald Knox, who codified the rules of the genre in his, partly tongue-in-cheek, 10 Commandments of Detective Fiction. And amongst all these I discovered that many hitherto unsuspected authors, well-known for other work, had also more than dabbled in crime, including M. M. Kaye, famous for The Far Pavilions. She wrote the Death In . . . mystery series, based on her experiences living all over the world as wife of a British Army officer.
What struck me most, as is apparent from the above examples, is the sheer variety – of concept, of style, of writing. To try to shoehorn it all into one genre seems at best absurd, not to mention reductive. In The Murder Room, we’ve broken down our titles into three categories, detective, noir and thriller. But even that was a struggle, and I’m sure there will be purist aficionados of each sub-genre who will take issue with the split. We like a lively discussion, though, so, most of all, we hope that there is something for everyone, and that you will come and visit, take a look around, talk to us through the forum and make suggestions for who you’d like to see included.
Hope to see you there soon.
Editor, The Murder Room.