Or should they have their own section in book shops? Waterstones in Sheffield has recently reordered their shelves to slot the crime in with the other fiction – and I don’t like it. Hatchards on St Pancras station have done it too. I can appreciate the argument in favour: it is all literature and perhaps if crime fiction has its own section this implies that crime is something different (and perhaps lesser?). But when I am in the mood for crime – and I so often am – I want to browse crime fiction and nothing else. I don’t want to have to scan all the other fiction too.
To make it worse, short story collections aren’t grouped together. I was looking for the new British Library Golden Age collection, Serpents in Eden: Countryside Crime, and couldn’t work out where it might be, until I thought of looking under E for Martin Edwards, the editor.
Please, Waterstones, go back to your old ways and put all the crime fiction together with collections of short stories at the beginning like you used to do. I’ll be more likely to find what I want and buy it.
For quite a large proportion of my life there have been only two ways to get hold of a book that one wanted to read, either through a library or through a book-shop, which essentially meant W. H. Smith if you lived in the sticks or maybe a second-hand book shop. No remainder book shops, no charity shops, no internet. My recent experience of reading the work of one particular author, new to me, has been a thought-provoking contrast. The first novel by Christopher Fowler that I read was THE WATER ROOM, which I bought a couple of years ago in a charity shop in Bristol, encouraged by my friend and fellow writer, Kate Ellis, who said she liked his books. I did enjoy it, but didn’t seek out any more. Then a month or two ago I spotted another of his, THE VICTORIA VANISHES, in my local Oxfam shop, remembered it had a nice review in the Guardian, and bought it. This one I enjoyed a lot: it reminded me of Edmund Crispin’s novels with its echo of THE MOVING TOY-SHOP and its range of eccentric characters but it also had an atmosphere all its own. I was contemplating buying another, when quite by chance I popped into a remainder book shop in Bakewell and found two more for only £2 each: BRYANT AND MAY ON THE RAILS and BRYANT AND MAY ON THE LOOSE. Both are excellent and I was hooked. By now I had four books in the series and I was feeling a bit guilty that the writer isn’t benefiting more from this so I bought the next one, BRYANT AND MAY AND THE PROPERTY OF BLOOD, as an ebook from Amazon for around a fiver. However I was still feeling a bit guilty because I had resolved to cut down on purchases from tax-dodging Amazon, so for the next book I went into Waterstone’s in Sheffield. I was disappointed to find they had only the books I’d already read. However the following week I found WHITE CORRIDOR in Foyles on St Pancras station and bought that. So it’s only on the sixth book I actually bought a hard copy from a proper, old-fashioned bookshop. Incidentally, I’m not entirely sure, but I suspect the writer will get a better royalty from the ebook than from the paper copy. Several other thoughts occur to me. Amazon has a big advantage because it can stock so much more than a bricks and mortar bookshop and if you buy an ebooks you can have it in seconds. I don’t have a bookshop within walking distance so that is a factor. Same is true of the local library, though I could have gone when I was in Bakewell. I intend to buy the other books in the series in some form that will put money in the writer’s pocket, because I really like them and think it’s only right. But part of the reason that I feel that way is because I am a writer, too. If I wasn’t, that might not even occur to me. On the other hand, anyone might buy a book in a charity shop, reasoning that they haven’t lost much if they don’t like it, and then go on to buy the author’s other books (or even decide to make a TV series of them – as happened with one of Anne Cleeve’s books). So it’s a complicated picture, though it strikes me that as more and more people buy ebooks – sales have already overtaken hard copies – there will be fewer and fewer paperbacks for charity shops or second-hand book shops. It will take a while to make an impact, but I think it must in the end. For now though it’s the case that books have never been available so widely or cheaply. For the reader it is great. I am not so sure about the writer.