How to Survive a Classic Crime Novel by Kate Jackson

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How to Survive a Classic Crime Novel by Kate Jackson front cover

Would you survive a murder mystery? Particularly one from the Golden Age of Crime, when fair play, amateur sleuths, closed circles of suspects and logic and deduction were the rules of the game? The answer’s far from certain, but if you arm yourself with as much knowledge of the genre as possible, you’ll have a better chance of survival than most.

Fortunately, Kate Jackson has compiled How to Survive a Classic Crime Novel to equip you with exactly the kind of invaluable life-saving knowledge that can be derived from the best of the best of classic crime fiction.

Starting from the moment you – as the prospective murder victim – wake up in the morning, Jackson provides a walkthrough of the myriad ways in which death could possibility occur over the course of a normal day. For the purpose of the book, you are in London, ‘one of the deadliest of cities’, and you need to proceed with caution.

Indeed, the very home in which you awake is packed with potential pitfalls and means by which your death could be assured. From poison-laced food to the appearance of unexpected gifts to the thorny issue of whether or not to lock the bathroom door, Jackson highlights all the dangers you face. You’ll likely never look at your home in the same way again.

What’s more, Jackson goes on to explain how you’re still far from safe even if you flee the house. Gardens are full of possible sources of peril, as are the streets around your residence and all means of transport. Trains are particularly troublesome in this regard, but buses and cars also have their issues. Walking isn’t much better.

Even when you arrive at your destination, whether it be the workplace, a social event or a holiday hideaway, the likelihood of experiencing an untimely demise is still high. And things are extra problematic if you happen to be looking for love. Sadly, death seems guaranteed whatever you do. You should probably just give up. Or, perhaps, read this book.

How to Survive a Classic Crime Novel is a tongue-in-cheek guide to surviving the signature scenarios found in Golden Age novels and stories. Jackson is an expert on all things classic crime and she has done the hard work so that others have the chance to live longer and enjoy more crime fiction.

With her witty and engaging commentary, Jackson offers a unique perspective on the classic crime genre, providing valuable insights and helpful tips on how to survive and how to ensure your next read is a good one. Here, her encyclopaedic knowledge of crime allows her to achieve both goals in entertaining and amusing fashion.

For instance, if you absolutely must venture onto the London Underground, Jackson describes how you should always stand clear of the platform edge, hold onto the supportive railing, exit the station quickly, be cautious when interacting with fellow travellers and never enter an empty carriage. And she does so with reference to the works of Agatha Christie, Henry Wade, Mavis Doriel Hay, Baroness Orczy and John Oxenham.

As such, How to Survive a Classic Crime Novel provides a comprehensive and diverting survey of the scenarios, locations, characters and hazards that characterise classic crime fiction as well as an extensive bibliography of recommended reads. This means that it has plenty to offer both newcomers and avid readers of the genre.

The book is well structured, with each chapter addressing the dangers associated with a particular facet of daily life, and it is written in an engaging and accessible style. Jackson coveys plenty of information, but she does so with a light touch. Her enthusiasm for classic crime writing shines through on every page, inspiring further investigation of the works to which she refers.

Jackson’s practical advice for avoiding the risks found in crime fiction and the related literary recommendations are accompanied throughout by Joanna Lisowiec’s excellent greyscale illustrations, which enhance the book and add some extra touches of humour and intrigue to the text.

How to Survive a Classic Crime Novel is an enjoyable and informative guide to the key features of Golden Age literature that caters to both die-hard fans of the genre and recent converts. Kate Jackson’s love for crime fiction is palpable, making the book a delightful companion for anyone seeking to explore the world of mystery, suspense and detective fiction.

If you’re interested in other novel approaches to murder mysteries, check out GT Karber’s Murdle.

British Library Publishing

CFL Rating: 5 Stars

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