My memory is a tad foggy these days, but it must have been around 2003/ 2004 when I received rejections for my first crime novel. What I do clearly remember is one agent rejecting me because she thought crime fiction was waning in popularity.
Present me thinks; narrow escape – that was one agent with a finger on the pulse. Not.
What is absolutely clear is that crime fiction, in all its various forms remains incredibly popular, in fact recent sales figures show that it is outstripping other genres in the UK with amounts of £200 million a year being mentioned.
So why the enduring popularity? Why do Brits like nothing more than to curl up in a chair (usually with wind and rain beating against the window) with some literary dastardly goings on in their sweaty mitt?
Now I can’t speak for anyone else, but as a long-time fan of the genre there are several things that I look for when I’m parting with my hard-earned.
Character. I want to meet someone on the page who engages me, for whatever reason. I might sympathise with them and want to see them get out of the terrible situation they have found themselves in. I might love to hate them and want to see them get their comeuppance. And if the writer manages to get both of these in a book, boy will they have me pressing on through looking for answers.
Writers to check out– William McIlvanney, Louise Beech and John Connolly.
Plot. It’s not enough that I engage with the character, I want something to happen. I remember years ago reading a novel where the writing was beautiful and the character was appealing, but nothing fricking happened! I lasted till about half way before I gave up on the book. A lot of the critics of the crime genre – most of whom clearly haven’t read any – use the issue of plot in a crime novel as the basis of their criticism, but poor plotting is lazy writing in any genre. When the plot grows out of the character and is consistent with their needs and wants, I’m off and running.
Great storytellers – Jeffrey Deaver, Val McDermid, Paul Hardisty and Martina Cole
Themes and issues. I don’t want to be lectured or hit over the head with a message but if a theme or issue is highlighted in the book and the character’s struggle with it is demonstrated through the events that happen to them, my heart as well as my mind is engaged, and I’ve got me a winner.
Writers who make me think – George Pelecanos, Denise Mina, Helen Fitzgerald and Don Winslow
Humour. Let’s face it, crime fiction can deal with some pretty meaty subjects and humanity
Writers who make me laugh – Carl Hiassen, Chris Brookmyre and Douglas Skelton.
Word choice. Elmore Leonard in his famous rules on writing said that if something sounds like writing he re-writes it. I understand where he’s coming from. If something pushes you out of the fictive dream then it has to go – but – and I hesitate to disagree with such a master – isn’t it wonderful when an author hits you with a surprising noun or verb? Or when they gift you with a sentence that lights up in your mind’s ear like sparkling candy does in your mouth? I love words, I love the feel and sound of them as they trip from the mouth and hit the air, and for me a novel where the author has taken time to pepper their prose with such goodies makes me want to stand up and applaud.
Strong prose stylists – Megan Abbott, Tana French, James Lee Burke and Michael Grothaus.
House of Spines by Michael J Malone (Orenda Books)
Ran McGhie's world has been turned upside down. A young, lonely and frustrated writer, and suffering from mental-health problems, he discovers that his long-dead mother was related to one of Glasgow's oldest merchant families. Not only that, but Ran has inherited Newton Hall, a vast mansion that belonged to his great-uncle, who appears to have been watching from afar as his estranged great-nephew has grown up. Entering his new-found home, he finds that Great-Uncle Fitzpatrick has turned it into a temple to the written word - the perfect place for poet Ran. But everything is not as it seems. As he explores the Hall's endless corridors, Ran's grasp on reality appears to be loosening. And then he comes across an ancient lift; and in that lift a mirror. And in the mirror ... the reflection of a woman ....
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