Murder by the Book: Exhibition dedicated to 20th century crime fiction to open in Cambridge

Murder she wrote: the typewriter which the 'Queen of Crime' wrote her novels
Murder She Wrote: the typewriter which the 'Queen of Crime' wrote her novels on Credit: University of Cambridge

Crime pays - at least when it comes to fiction.

According to the data firm Nielsen more than half a billion crime, thriller and adventure books were bought in the 10 years from 2013 to 2022 in the UK. That market was worth £2.5bn.

But some critics often look down their noses at the genre, considering it a "second class literature".

Now an exhibition at the University of Cambridge is hoping to change all that.

Murder by the Book celebrates 20th century British crime fiction.

Killer facts

Killer facts about crime fiction

The genre consistently ranks as the largest area of the book market, and in 2022, crime & thriller accounted for around 12 of all print book purchases,.

That rose to around a fifth of audiobooks and more than a third of e-books.

And 4 out every ten book buyers say they read crime & thriller books - Nielsen

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The Queen of Crime

Agatha Christie - herself the subject of a real-life mystery - is regarded as the biggest name in crime fiction.

the British author penned 66 detective novels, creating characters like ~Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple - as as well as the world’s longest-running play – The Mousetrap.

According to her official website her books have sold over 2 billion copies worldwide.

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Challengers to the Queen's crown...

Well according to the Crime Writer's Association - the authors behind those dastardly plots - in 1990 they named The Daughter of Time by Scottish author Jospehine Tey.

The book was about the murder of the princes in the tower.

But at number 4 in that list was Witham's Dorothy L Sayers - the creator of Lord Peter Wimsey, for her book Gaudy Night

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And there are plenty of amazing artefacts on display.

Exhibit A: Agatha Christie’s typewriter and dictaphone.

But that's not all. The typescript to her final Poirot Novel, Curtain, published in 1975, that was so top secret it was kept in a bank vault for three decades until its publication, will also go on show.

Also on loan from the Christie Archive Trust for the exhibition are her draft notebooks from the writing of Curtain and Witness For The Prosecution.

The exhibition starts on 23 March. Credit: University of Cambridge.

Award-winning Suffolk crime author Nicola Upson, is the curator of the exhibition.

She said: “This exhibition is a glorious selection of the novels that have influenced the genre and made household names of Sherlock Holmes, Miss Marple, Jane Tennison and Inspector Morse.

“We look at the brilliant ideas, atmospheric settings, vivid characters, the dark and dangerous themes – and those perfect, unguessable endings.

“If you love crime podcasts or programmes, you’re going to love this exhibition!"

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The exhibition, which celebrates 20th century British crime fiction, will feature nearly 100 of the most famous, influential and best-selling crime novels in UK history, as well as other consequential works that are now long out of print.

The majority of the novels on display are drawn from Cambridge University Library’s unique, world-class Tower collection of first editions in their original dust jackets.

Elsewhere, the exhibition also features novelist Wilkie Collins’ writing desk, as well as the library’s first edition copy of his seminal work The Moonstone.

First editions going on display range from the earliest British crime fiction of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Charles Felix and Wilkie Collins – to some of the 20th and 21st century’s most recognisable authors.

A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle on display during a preview of Murder by the Book Credit: PA Images

A second part to the exhibition, explores crime novels set in Cambridge and works of fiction that inspired film adaptations by Alfred Hitchcock.

Murder By The Book: A Celebration of 20th Century Crime Fiction is a free exhibition which opens to the public at Cambridge University Library on Saturday, 23 March.

It will run until 24 August.

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