Klinger’s foreword to this new collection offers a concise but comprehensive history of crime writing—both fiction and nonfiction—in the U.S., England, and beyond ... he puts his role as historian and critic above simply being an enthusiast for these titles ... Classic American Crime Fiction of the 1920s is a treasure of information and a joy to study or simply read. By gathering these texts together and diving into them with insight and research, Leslie S. Klinger brings them to today’s readers in an accessible, enlightening, and entertaining way.
The stories deliberately leave out the messiness of real life, of real emotions, thus allowing the reader to mentally just amble along, mildly intrigued, feeling comfortable and even, yes, cozy ... This hefty volume (1,126 pages) opens with an essay by our preeminent authority on the mystery genre, Otto Penzler, followed by excellent brief introductions to each author and novel from Klinger. What’s more, Pegasus has produced as handsome a volume as you could ask for, starting with the gold-embossed lettering on its cinema-marquee style dust jacket. The whole package cries 'terrific holiday gift,' which it is ... And yet duty requires me to issue a few caveats. Not only is this book is huge, but it’s also heavy and unwieldy: Will people actually read it? ... Annotation is obviously a minefield and know-it-all reviewers heartlessly pounce on the occasional mistake, so let me stress that there’s a treasure house of illuminating and useful information here—even if the third note for the Queen novel is wrong.
Since none of those texts is exactly The Anatomy of Melancholy, the book’s margins tend to be open and snowy white spaces, and the relatively few annotations that appear tend to be on the droning side, querulously taking readers aside in order to tell them things they could easily Google if they were interested. Which they wouldn’t be ... But there’s almost nothing inviting about the format that was chosen for all these labors of love, which is rendered all the more wistful by how immediately obvious the better alternatives are. Print a single volume with all five novels, for instance, but acknowledge the skimpy number of truly helpful annotations and turn them into a far smaller number of footnotes at the bottom of the page, thus dispensing with the need for double columns and presto, shrinking the book to a portable size. Or dispense with two-thirds of the photos ... The juxtaposition of the grand arrangement and the tawdry, addictively readable pap it contains feels like burying your dead childhood parakeet in a 10-acre marble mausoleum. Here’s hoping the paperback reprint next year takes the form of five separate thin floppy paperbacks.