Saving crime fiction

thraxasStuart Evers asks: ‘why isn’t crime writing taken more seriously?’ and then answers his question with this para about literary novelist and pseudonym crime writer John Banville:

Writing under his own name, Banville manages around 100 sweated-over, teased, honed and polished words a day; but as Benjamin Black, he can manage a couple of thousand. The intimation was quite clear, ‘Black’s’ sentences simply weren’t as important. 

God knows there is a lot of genre snobbery in mainstream criticism, but the reason that crime writing isn’t taken seriously is not because it’s a bad genre, but because it’s filled with bad writers. Consider. Contemporary crime hasn’t really moved on from the procedural paradigm that Raymond Chandler set up in the 1930s. Detective chases killer through cities of darkness – that was the formula, and none did it better. But Chandler was a genius. Today’s crime writers have the procedure but none of the style. 

Crime itself has changed in ways that Chandler would barely recognise but contemporary fiction remains in Rosemary and Thyme’s country house. Most of it puts you in mind of Christopher Booker’s comment on Agatha Christie: it’s intricately done, like a crossword puzzle, but leaves the reader with the same sense of hollow fulfillment upon completion.   

This is a waste and a shame, because there’s nothing more expansive than crime: as Ian Rankin said: ‘I think the contemporary crime novel can now take on some of the larger themes we face. With issues like 9/11 or terrorism, or racism, I think you’re more likely to find some answers in good crime fiction than in any other form.’ Reviewing Carl Hiaasen’s Skinny Dip, Mark Harris called him ‘a great American writer about the great American subjects of ambition, greed, vanity, and disappointment.’

The insight, creativity and outstanding prose of Hiaasen in America and Brookmyre in the UK is rarely imitated, let alone equalled. The only other contender I can see is Thraxas, Martin Millar’s fantasy detective: set in the mythical city state of Turai (beautifully crafted, and perhaps owing a lot to Millar’s interest in Ancient Greece) Millar’s books follow Thraxas’s tightly plotted investigations while taking on the great scope of love, death, war, class and friendship.

It’s easy to blame the critics but they can’t be held responsible for dull and pedestrian writing. Maybe it’s necessary to save crime fiction from its practitioners.

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4 Responses to “Saving crime fiction”

  1. saeed Says:

    have you read any robert beck aka iceberg slim novels…?

    if you haven’t you’re in for a treat…probably the pinnacle of crime fiction

    also try david simons novels…

  2. maxdunbar Says:

    Oh I love David Simon!

    Thanks for your recommendations – will check them out

  3. saeed Says:

    have you checked out iceberg slim yet????

  4. andrewgirle Says:

    Thanks for pointing out Martin Millar (Scott?) as an author. Now to go track him down locally!

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