Sunday Salon – Crime Fiction

Today I’ve been dipping into The Rough Guide to Crime Fiction by Barry Forshaw, published in 2007. This is an excellent little book giving “a selection of the best in crime writing over the last century or so, organized by subject (or sub-genre)”.  There are succinct book reviews, ‘top five’ lists for writers such as Agatha Christie, notes on screen adaptations and profiles of writers.

I suppose all guides are subjective and not everyone will agree on the selection, but for me this works, with information on writers whose books I know and those I don’t. I could wish it had a section on ‘cozy mysteries’ but it doesn’t!

There are sections on

  • The origins of crime novels, including Edgar Allan Poe, Wilkie Collins and Arthur Conan Doyle
  • The Golden Age, classic mysteries from authors I know, such as Christie, Allingham and Tey and from ones I don’t such as Christianna Brand and Edmund Crispin.
  • Hardboiled and pulp – a hazardous world of carnality and danger, violent and brutal. Not really my cup of tea, but there are some classics here too – Raymond Chandler and The Big Sleep.
  • Private eyes, sleuths and gumshoes – in this section are Kate Atkinson, Michael Connelly and Alexander McCall Smith to name but a few.
  • Cops – police procedurals and mavericks. This includes the maverick cops, those loose canons at daggers drawn with their superiors, like Ian Rankin’s Rebus. It’s a long section covering authors both known and unknown to me – too many to list here, but including Jon Cleary, Colin Dexter and Ed McBain.
  • Professionals – lawyers, doctors, forensics etc. So, John Grisham, Val McDermid and Scott Turow et al feature here.
  • Amateurs – journalists and innocent bystanders. These are books that don’t fit easily into other genres, exploring the human psyche by for example authors as varied as Christopher Brookmyre and G K Chesterton, Dick Francis and Michael Ridpath.
  • All in the Mind – psychological matters. This chapter includes books that ‘foreground the psychology of their characters in extremis’, such as Iain Banks ‘The Wasp Factory’ and Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith.
  • Serial killers – Thomas Harris (Hannibal Lector) and Karen Slaughter (Faithless) – not a genre that I’m comfortable with, one for me to skip over maybe.
  • Criminal protagonists taking the reader into the heads of criminals. I haven’t read any of the books in this section, books like Maura’s Game by Martina Cole and Night and the City by Gerald Kersh.
  • Organized Crime – the world of the godfather and gangs. Another new-to-me genre, more familiar to me from films, such as The Gangs of New York – I didn’t know it was based on Herbert Asbury’s series of books on 19th century crime.
  • Crime and Society – key issues such as class, race and politics, from writers such as P D James in Britain and Michael Crichton in the US.
  • Espionage – John Le Carre, Len Deighton and Ian Fleming to name but a few.
  • Historical crime – one of my favourite genres from Ancient Rome (Lindsay Davis and Steven Saylor), Medieval murder (Michael Jecks) and World War thrillers from Robert Ryan and Robert Harris. Here is one of my favourites – C J Sansom (Shardlake) and new-to me Jane Jakeman who wrote In the Kingdom of the Mists, which appeals to me with the Impressionist painter, Monet at the centre of the mysteries – I must find this one.
  • Crime in Translation – some of these are familiar, like Umberto Eco, Andre Camilleri, and Henning Mankell. No Stieg Larsson, though. It maybe that his books came out too late for this guide, I don’t know.

5 thoughts on “Sunday Salon – Crime Fiction

  1. My library has recently acquired Rough Guides on various subjects, but I thought they were like the For Dummies and For Idiots books. This sounds a bit more interesting; I’ll have to see if my library has this one.

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  2. I like the Rough Guide series a lot. My experience with them is that they are great to have for reference or for occasional dipping into as the need arises. I think you’re probably right about Stieg Larsson. He will no doubt be in the next edition!

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  3. I bought this guide a while back, and I think you are right that it was before the rise of the S. Larsson phenomenon (in translation into English, anyway). I was pleased that the book does contain some good translated authors, though (eg Karin Fossum) as all too often this set of novelists is excluded, whereas in my experience they are far superior fare to the mass of “natively written in English” crime fiction – only a tiny fraction of which is covered in a small book like this. He’s also written a much bigger encylcopaedia of crime fiction but I can’t afford that! (I think there is something about it at the Crime Time website).

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  4. I own this as well and refer to it often. I think the selections are excellent and it gives a great overview of different types of mysteries. I also wish there were more cozies in it, though I suppose the Golden Age section is meant to touch on them?

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  5. I love books like this. I’ve just been putting together the books for a Summer School I’m running and because I wanted to give people a choice of linked themes I got hold of ‘The Bloomsbury Good Reading Guide’. I spent hours just reminding myself of books I had loved and forgotten about. Actually getting my lists together took at least twice as long as it should, but I loved every minute of it.

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