Now and then someone asks me who my favourite crime-writer is, as they did last night at my book-group. My mind always goes a blank and I mutter something about still loving Agatha Christie. Last night I did in the end manage to come up with Andrea Camilleri, Michael Connolly (recent worthy winner of the CWA Diamond Dagger) and Ian Rankin. But I did feel a bit of a fool. After all I write crime fiction and – goodness knows – I also read plenty of it, so I ought not to be at a loss.
Perhaps the truth is that there are just too many to choose from and I don’t have just one favourite. And at the moment too my head is full of my own novel, which I am right in the middle of writing (and which also accounts for my neglect of my blog).
All the same, why didn’t I think of the excellent Ellie Griffiths, for example, whose Ruth Galloway series I enjoy so much? Or my favourite Scandi authors, Norwegian Jorn Lier Horst and Icelandic Arnaldur Indridason (though possibly uncertainty about pronunciation plays a part there)? There is also Simenon whose Maigret novels I return to again and again.
And then there are all the Golden Age writers, such as Helen McCloy whose books I am reading or re-reading in preparation for talking about her at the annual Bodies from the Library in June. I’ve also been loving the collection of short stories edited by Martin Edwards in the British Library Crime Classics series. And by the way, that series is now accompanied by a very attractive little book that I have been meaning to mention, The Pocket Detective, compiled by Kate Jackson, and containing a hundred puzzles, including word searches, spot the difference, anagrams, and crosswords (that staple of the Golden Age). I was delighted to be sent a review copy and the puzzles are perfect for mulling over during a coffee break: an excellent little present for the crime-lover (or writer) in your life – or maybe yourself. Kate by the way is the author of a terrific blog about crime fiction:http://crossexaminingcrime.com.
Happy New Year to my readers. I intend to do better with my blog this year and there may even be a new development in the offing. Watch this space.
At least for a while. Maybe I’ll take June off. Go cold turkey. Only thirty days in June, so it might not be too bad. Or maybe wait until August when I’ll be in France for some of the time, so (mostly) out of the reach of temptation. Or should I perhaps just STOP RIGHT NOW. But something must be done, because my study looks like a second-hand bookshop, there are books all over the house, and if I’m not careful I’m going to end up like those people who have so much stuff that they have to tunnel through it to get from room to room. And then there are all the unread books on my e-reader. It is so fatally easy to download with just one click – and often so cheap. I have reluctantly concluded that it is all getting out of hand.
What has brought this on is my trip to Crimefest at the week-end. I decided to limit myself to two new books – not least because I had to carry them home on the train. One was the eagerly awaited The Golden Age of Murder by Martin Edwards (soon to be reviewed here) and Jorn Lier Horst’s newly translated The Caveman, both signed by their authors. But it didn’t stop there. I came home with a whole bag of books, because I correctly guessed that Len Tyler’s Crooked Herring would win the Last Laugh Award for the best humorous crime novel. The prize was the shortlist of six. I already had Len’s book, so I gave that to a friend. But it still means that I came home with seven new books. No, make that eight, because I kept one that came free in the goody bag.
And in spite of all that, have I still bought another book today? Why, yes, I have. I met a writing chum, Quentin Bates, at Crimefest and that reminded me to download his new novella, Summerchill.
The rate at which I am acquiring books is far, far outstripping the rate at which I read them – and I am a byword among my friends for the number of books I get through. The gap is getting bigger and bigger. So maybe Quentin’s should be the last for a bit. Just a temporary measure, you understand. But I think I’d be the better for it – and so would my credit card statements.
I bought two books at Crimefest. One was the excellent Euro Noir: The Pocket Essential Guide to European Crime Fiction, Film and TV, by Barry Forshaw, which was launched at Crimefest. Barry knows pretty much everything there is to know about contemporary crime fiction and he moderated one of the most interesting panels at Crimefest, also called Euro Noir. The writers were Lars Kepler (a Swedish husband and wife team), Dominque Manotti (French), Paul Johnston (lives in Greece) and Jorn Lier Horst (Norwegian). For an interesting discussion of the panel you could go to http://mrspeabodyinvestigates.wordpress.com. There is also a lot about translated crime on a splendid website: eurocrime.co.uk
I’ve been reflecting on how much translated fiction I read these days. I’ve read Simenon for years, but my love affair with foreign crime fiction really began sometime in the 1990s when my eye was caught by a copy of Henning Mankell’s Faceless Killers on a table in Waterstones. I think that was the first one to be translated into English and was published by the estimable Harvill press. I was attracted by the stylish black and white landscape on the cover. I bought it and have never looked back. Andrea Camilleri was one of my favourite writers long before Montalbano appeared on TV. Then there is Fred Vargas in France, Arnuldar Indridason in Iceland, and many other Scandanavians. Do I even read more translated fiction than English language fiction? It may well be the case, especially as we read a lot of foreign fiction in my book group. I enjoy it so much, I think, because it is a window into other cultures, even a little armchair holiday.
The other book I bought was The Hunting Dogs by Jorn Lier Horst, a new writer that I’m keen on. This is the third of his books to be translated into English from Norwegian. I am keeping that as a treat, but I read Barry’s book on the train on the way home and it’s given me lots of ideas for future reading and viewing.