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Author Talk: September 19, 2019

Martin Edwards has published 16 crime novels and more than 50 short stories. His crime fiction has been shortlisted for several awards, and in 2008 he won the CWA Short Story Dagger. In this interview, Edwards explains his decision to set his latest mystery, GALLOWS COURT, in 1930, which he calls “a pivotal year”; why he finds his protagonist, Rachel Savernake, so appealing; and the biggest challenge he faced writing this book, which he pulled off without the benefit of an outline.

Question: GALLOWS COURT is set in 1930, which is very much a period recognized as being a golden age of detective fiction. Is it, in fact, one of your own ultimate favorite years?

Martin Edwards: I chose 1930 because it was a pivotal year, both for crime fiction and generally. The 1920s saw the rise of the detective puzzle, a fun type of story to entertain people after the war. In the ’30s, with economic depression and rising international tensions, the crime genre began to darken, and there was growing interest in criminal psychology. 1930 was also the year in which Anthony Berkeley, Dorothy L. Sayers and others founded the Detection Club, the world’s first social network of crime writers, with G. K. Chesterton becoming President (I’m now the eighth President). So it’s a year that has a lot of resonance, and seemed an excellent starting point for the series.

Q: As you say, this novel has been conceived as the first in a series. You must have faith in your characters. Which characters from past mystery series would you point to as having helped you model Rachel Savernake’s character?

ME: Part of the appeal for me of Rachel Savernake is that she isn’t like other characters in crime series. She’s young, smart, fabulously rich and very, very ruthless. It’s that ruthlessness that sets her apart. And it fascinates Jacob Flint, the journalist who is determined to solve the mystery of Rachel Savernake. Jacob is a more typical character in a crime series, a likable, if naïve, young man with more curiosity than is good for him. Writing about the tensions in their relationship is very appealing to me.

Q: You mention in your Foreword that you wrote GALLOWS COURT without an outline, unlike your previous novels. Its reception thus far indicates that you must have had the right idea. What was the biggest challenge you faced working in this manner?

ME: I’ve been thrilled by the reaction to the book, and it’s the first novel of mine to be nominated for two different major awards. With my Lake District Mysteries, for instance, I know at the outset the identities of murderer and victim and the motive for the crime (which has to be one I find interesting and thought-provoking). With GALLOWS COURT, I wasn’t writing an orthodox detective story. Really, it’s a thriller with lots of twists, and I didn’t know what the twists were going to be until I started writing. So the biggest challenge lay in exploring the potential of the characters and the situation, and figuring out how to make sense of it all while keeping the reader hooked, and anxious to find out what happens next.

Q: As the editor of numerous acclaimed collections of long out-of-print crime stories, you have helped bring back to light an enormous amount of lost talent. Can you point to one author you rediscovered whose work you were particularly impressed by?

ME: I’m pleased that Freeman Wills Crofts is one of those enjoying a revival. ANTIDOTE TO VENOM is a very interesting experimental novel, an inverted mystery with a moral at its heart. More conventional is THE HOG’S BACK MYSTERY, one of his very best whodunits, with a baffling premise that sets quite a challenge for Inspector French.

Q: With your love of golden age crime fiction well established, one has to wonder if there are any contemporary mystery authors whose work you read and particularly enjoy right now.

ME: Lots! I’m very keen on contemporary crime fiction as well. I’ve been a fan of Ann Cleeves and Peter Robinson since they started writing, and they have become very good friends. Their books go from strength to strength, and the same is true of writers like Mick Herron and Peter Lovesey.