It’s easy to assume that there’s never been a time like the present for variety and vitality in crime fiction. All those Nordic noir thrillers, cosy crime stories, police procedurals, serial killer tales and historical mysteries. Yet my experiences researching crime stories for my anthologies of short fiction from the late Victorian and Edwardian eras give the lie to such an assumption. There was at least as much wide-ranging originality in evidence in the 1890s and 1900s as there has been in the last twenty years. Supernatural Sherlocks, published last year, collected together 15 stories about psychic detectives. Contemporary fiction offers no more intriguing protagonist than William Hope Hodgson’s Carnacki the Ghost Finder, pitting his wits against things invisible and monsters from other dimensions. This year I’m reading less spooky tales for a second volume of The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes, to be published in 2019. The variety of detectives to be found is astonishing. There is a blind detective whose other senses have been heightened by his disability (Ernest Bramah’s Max Carrados); a detective who is a Canadian woodsman and hunter (November Joe in stories by Hesketh Prichard); an old man who solves crimes while sitting in a London teashop (Baroness Orczy’s Old Man in the Corner); and a Hindu from a remote Indian village who is brought to London to exercise his uncanny powers of detection (Headon Hill’s Kala Persad). As befits the age of the ‘New Woman’, there are plenty of adventures with female protagonists, from George R. Sims’s Dorcas Dene to Catherine Louisa Pirkis’s Loveday Brooke.
The magazines and periodicals of the years between 1890 and 1914 – and there were dozens upon dozens of them – offer an almost bottomless well of crime fiction on which to draw. My anthologies and others like them barely scratch the surface of what is out there. There are plenty of riches still to discover. The true Golden Age of crime fiction was before the First World War.