Last summer at the St Hilda’s crime fiction convention I guessed who the murderer was (Val McDermid!) in the after dinner play. I wasn’t the only one to get it right, but mine was the name picked out of the hat, and the prize was a year’s subscription for a crime novel sent by Blackwells every month and selected by them. Shiny new books! For free! Well, you can imagine what a treat that is and with what eager anticipation I rip open the parcel every month.
As a result I am reading more contemporary crime than usual and one of the books I’ve received is Lucy Foley’s The Hunting Party. I liked the set-up – a group of thirty-something friends celebrate New Year in the Scottish Highlands, are cut off by snow, and then a body is found. One of them must have done it: but who? I was gripped by the narrative and raced through it. And yet . . . what a very unpleasant group of people! What did they see in each other? I put the book down feeling glad that I don’t have friends like this.
When I moved on to the next book from Blackwells, I began to feel conscious of a trend. The protagonist of this one is a professional woman who drinks too much, has reckless adulterous sex, and treats her husband and child appallingly. I couldn’t get interested in this woman or care about her. I disliked her too much – and disapproved of her (call me old-fashioned . . ) and I felt the conclusion of the book let her off too lightly.
Nasty people as protogonists are not a new thing in crime fiction. Highsmith’s Tom Ripley, for instance, is a sociopath, but he is superficially charming at least. This new trend seems to be something rather different. Did it begin perhaps with Gone Girl (which I thought was a tour-de-force) and The Girl on the Train (which I haven’t read)? Do I have a point or am I becoming a censorious old bat?