HarperCollins has just reissued three titles (13th August) in a relaunched series of hardback crime classics, The Detective Club, its first crime imprint that dates back to the 1920s.
The list relaunch came about when David Brawn [pictured], publisher of estates at HarperCollins, was researching the company’s history in its Glasgow archive. Brawn said: “As part of the exercise of moving into the new building in January we were looking at the history of Collins; in a bright, new, shiny building you want to make sure you hold on to the heritage of the company and ensure it is not lost.”
Brawn came across handwritten notes by a sales director that mentioned the very first crime book that Collins commissioned, The Skeleton Key by Bernard Capes, in 1919. He said: “This led me on a trail where I discovered that before The Crime Club was launched in 1930, Collins had a list called The Detective Club, which was a vehicle for reprints of older crime titles. One of its launch titles was a reissue of The Skeleton Key.”
Brawn found the original book alongside “a whole load of others that looked amazing and had great titles” and brought them to London. He was inspired by the success that The British Library (TBL) has been having with its republished crime titles. “The irony is that Mystery in White [by J Jefferson Farjeon] was a Collins crime title in the 1930s, but the rights reverted years ago and [TBL] spotted it, so all power to their elbow,” he said.
The list launched with three new editions of vintage crime books with their original covers: The Perfect Crime by Israel Zangwill, reputedly the first locked room mystery; Called Back by Hugh Conway, which features a blind murder witness; and The Mayfair Mystery by Frank Richardson, centreing on the disappearance of a corpse. HarperCollins will follow the trio by releasing one title a month and Brawn has already scheduled titles to cover the next two years.
The Skeleton Key will be published in September and future titles include what Brawn believes to be the first female-written detective novel, by Anna Katherine Green, and a very early police procedural by an ex-Scotland Yard detective.
“I want to have these notable firsts that shaped crime writing as it is now,” Brawn said. All of the books will be published with a new introduction by a crime writer or expert explaining the context and significance of the text. The titles will all be priced at £9.99.
HarperCollins is working on a promotion with the Times which “serendipitously” launched a monthly crime newsletter for Times+ members, called The Crime Club, in June.