DAVID CROZIER'S RIVETING SHORTS: Crime in all shapes and sizes

PUBLISHED: 12:05 11 December 2008 | UPDATED: 15:41 07 September 2010

CRIME novels come in all shapes and sizes from the graphically gruesome and bloody to the baffling courtroom dramas and psychological thrillers via, seemingly, all points in between. But whatever your taste in death and dismemberment, most people still ha

CRIME novels come in all shapes and sizes from the graphically gruesome and bloody to the baffling courtroom dramas and psychological thrillers via, seemingly, all points in between.

But whatever your taste in death and dismemberment, most people still have a soft spot for a bit of an old school classic. Many's the time, after a traumatic session with Ian Rankin or Patricia Cornwell, I've been happy to settle down with a familiar tale from 221b Baker Street or perhaps take a brief trip down to St Mary Mead.

It's a delight, therefore, to see that Atlantic Books has just begun a new series of Crime Classics with five novels all of which are worth reading - or, indeed, re-reading - again and again.

Housed in stunning new covers and each containing a Case Note section with added context by literary critic and broadcaaster Professor Robert Giddings, they form a quality quintet to grace anyone's bookshelves.

Perhaps the most famous of the five is Charles Dickens' Bleak House - particularly after the recent BBC adaptation. Written in 1852-53, the book may be most concerned with chancery and the legal system, but it does also feature Detective Inspector Bucket, who has a claim as the first detective proper in English fiction. Certainly Dickens was fascinated by the sensational crime cases of his day so it's no surprise that a crime element should appear.

It's not, however, the earliest of these five novels.

The Collegians by Gerald Griffin was originally published in 1829 and was inspired by a celebrated criminal cse.

Young Hardress Cregan is a collegian and a rogue with a wicked roving eye. Although courting his wealthy cousin Anne, he has also embarked on a passionate love affair with the lowly but beautiful Eily O'Connor.

Hardress knows that his family would never approve of this match - but his lust overwhelms his conscience and he secretly marries Eily while becoming engaged to Anne. A deadly conspiracy seems the only way to extricate himself from his dilemma.

The Collegians was a sensation in its day and is long overdue a re-evaluation.

One novel I must confess to never having read prior to the launch of this series is Sapper's wonderful post-World War One thriller Bulldog Drummond.

Complete with dodgy foreigners with syringes, acid baths, fiendish Communist plots and the like, it's a step back into a bygone age well worth stepping back into.

Written in 1920 it's the first of 10 Bulldog Drummond novels and widely regarded to be the best. It's certainly hard to see how it can be matched for thrills, spills and sheer ludicrous entertainment value.

Captain Hugh 'Bulldog' Drummond has come out of the war and is bored. So he puts an advert in the papers requesting a "diversion". It's not long before the beautiful Phyllis appears along with the evil Lakington, the nationless (but undoubtedly foreign) Peterson and a plot bound to get any 1920s chap's gander up. Utterly ridiculous, of course, but utterly wonderful at the same time.

G.K.Chesterton's The Man Who Was Thursday is from 1908 and is another book where anarchist conspiracies and bomb plots take their cues from the times.

Chesterton's hero is Gabriel Syme who is dispatched by Scotland Yard to infiltrate an anarchist organisation with seven members, each named after a day of the week. He becomes Thursday - and finds himself caught up in a waking nightmare which is both a fascinating mystery and, in my view, the most chilling of the five books here.

Finally, there's E.W. Hornung's Raffles - the gentleman thief familiar to all of those my age and older from the 1970s TV series starring Anthony Valentine.

Hornung married Arthur Conan Doyle's sister Constance Doyle six years before writing this so perhaps it's no surprise that A.J. Raffles is in some ways the anti-Holmes - an irresistible alternative to the ultra serious detective. There's a touch of Jeeves and Wooster about he and sidekick Bunny too.

With an aptitude for cricket and a passion for crime, lovable rogue Raffles steals from the rich but instead of giving it to the poor, he uses the cash to fund his own extravagant lifestyle. He's a wonderful creation and making a well deserved return here.

Come the New Year, Atlantic plans to add one book a month to the collection beginning with Lady Audley's Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon in January and then The Murder in the Rue Morgue, Edgar Allan Poe, of course, in February. Other titles planned for the early part of 2009 include the Riddle of the Sands and a special collection of Sherlock Holmes stories.

Ah - they don't write them like this any more. No, they don't. Really.

David Crozier


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