I've never fully worked out
why I used to enjoy the genre of Crime Fiction so much (although there
are signposts throughout my life that would probably be superficially indicative).
I had 3 large bookcases full
of the stuff until I put them in boxes downstairs. I hardly ever get the urge to
read them anymore (this may be due to the
fact that I've re-read all of the best ones at least 3 times).
But I rarely buy any new titles
either (except for ones by the authors on this page) - however, I did buy
'Run' by Douglas E. Winter which had praise heaped upon it by other authors
whose work I admired to one degree or another but, in the end, it was a
hopelessly silly tale that was about as affecting as a Jean-Claude Van
Oh well, them's the breaks...
Anyway, here then are
a few of the things that made it so appealing to me...
of the First Person : When you're commuting to and from work for
4-6 hours each day it is imperative that you feel like you are anywhere
else other than exactly where you are. This can be achieved by sleeping
which, in the daylight hours, always seems like a real waste of time. Preferably,
you can lose yourself in a story where you become the main character.
The best and most effective Crime Fiction is written in the first person
which only adds to this subtle subterfuge on the part of the reader. It
doesn't matter if the character is good or evil as long as you ARE them...
(also see also one of my missives relating to this
location, location : No matter where you live, Crime Fiction takes
you somewhere else. An awful lot of time is spent in these stories describing
the inside and outside of houses, the crummy minutae of thoroughfares,
the depth and breadth of waterways and the vision splendid of other outdoor
views. And this doesn't take into account the rest of the time spent describing
articles of clothing, the contents of handbags and the slips of paper found
seamy side of life : Like most readers of Crime Fiction I'm, basically,
middle class. My life is comfortable and composed and I don't venture into
situations that will ruin it - for example, sauntering into an old style
bruiser's pub and ordering a Pimms on ice or giving the finger to the car
load of hoons that is crawling by. However, Crime Fiction allows me to
touch, ever so briefly, the seamy side of the street without getting hurt
one little bit.
Please note : The world wide
web is NOT the place to find information on authors of any kind, let alone
writers who have been classed within a specific genre. I've found a couple
of sites for each of the authors that I talk about below but, in the main,
they're book sellers or publishers and, therefore, are of little interest
to the true fan.
Peter Corris - Probably still the best writer
of Australian Crime Fiction (although Garry Disher can give him a go sometimes).
Most of the books are fairly typical detective tales concerning PI Cliff
Hardy (he's getting a bit long in the tooth now - but that's one of the
beauties of extended serial characters). To be honest, they're not ground
breaking bits of fiction and they basically follow the model set out by
Raymond Chandler with a highly moral central character railing against
modern society (needless to say, this doesn't reflect the realities of
private detectives at all but is, as always, a useful thematic device).
On the other hand, they make a cracking good read. Except for a small set
of mid period novels and short stories, they're well worth re-reading many
times and I have done so with great relish. "The Reward", after a break
of a year or so, was right up there with his best and contains more and
more elements of the best American "hard boiled" style. The latest releases
("The Black Prince" and "The Other Side Of Sorrow") are a return to earlier
themes and they're not too shabby either. The "hard boiled" aspect is even
more evident in his non-Cliff Hardy novels (including "Set Up") where Mr.
Corris seems to have a bit more freedom in expression, plotting and levels
of violence. Without his large body of excellent work, Australian Crime
Fiction would still be stuck with some vision of quaint Englishness.
Dexter - Although most people would consider Pete
Dexter a writer of 'real' literature (I.e. a book that eschews plot over
characterization and, ahem, depth) , there are enough elements of crime,
violence and obsessiveness in his work for his inclusion in this genre.
There's a very dream-like or disassociated aspect to his style that complements
his tales of families, loyalties and treacheries. Mainy of his main characters
seem to have very normal flaws that tend to become exacerbated whilst they're
In this way, at least, Mr.
Dexter can be seen as a 90's descendant of Jim Thompson and other 'pulp'
writers of the 50's. His tales of woe and desperation get into my skull
more decisively than any other modern writer.
Ellroy - The demon dog of American Crime Fiction
who can hardly seem to put a foot wrong. Once again, his characters are
mortally obsessive but, unlike any other writer alive or dead, these stories
are almost over-populated with coersion, blood, frame ups, weird linkages,
sex, violence and cover ups. "The Black Dahlia" was my first introduction
to his work and is, without doubt, a truely fascinating and influential
book that displays all of Mr. Ellroy's own obsessions. His latest, "American
Tabloid", takes the format of the earlier "LA quartet" novels but expands
them exponentialy into a simply massive tale of corruption and the rotten
heart of America. He's definitely one of a kind and still going strong
although his live "rapping" (as expounded on his Australian tour) leaves
something to be desired.
Harris - His legend is reliant on two small but
perfect novels ("Red Dragon" and "The Silence of the Lambs") that each
grappled with the mind of the serial killer. He may not have been the very
first author to deal with this subject but, with a superbly simple and
engrossing style, he manages the complexities of both plot and psychology
very well indeed. Almost all other novels of this type (and, yes, there
are thousands) can only hope to copy what he has already written. The much-awaited
sequel to these 2 - "Hannibal" was released last year and, honestly, it's
terrible, stupid and obnoxious although, at times, it displays the style
that made the first ones so readable.
Masters - Yes, I know, he's a writer of NON fiction
but I can't think of another person that does True Crime so well. His landmark
works deal with serial killers and the first of these, "Killing for Company",
is one of the most chilling texts that I have ever read. Much of this effect
can be laid at the door of the killer himself (Dennis Nilsen) who is not
only articulate and intelligent but who seemed to feel a bond of some sort
with the author. This 'bond' enables the Mr. Masters to gain insights that
many people would rather not know and also enables the book to be decisive,
all encompasing and totally engrossing. His later works (on this topic)
are also incisive and have started to deal more thoroughly with his ideas
concerning the legal system and it's inability to deal effectively with
these kind of crimes.
Raymond - Originally a writer of social realist
novels, Derek Raymond fashioned the greatest set of English Crime Fiction
ever written with his "Factory" series. These are novels of a deeply philosophical
nature wrapped in pain and a heightened sense of awareness but rooted firmly
to the ills of modern society. They are constantly invigorating but, at
the same time, frightening in their intensity. Some of the violence is
extraordinairily vivid but his intent with these depictions is to sicken
the reader, not to glorify pain and ugliness. A writer of bleak, modern
tragedies, his insights and compassion will be sorely missed.