Wednesday, 5 September 2007

A contrite convert to crime

Currently embroiled in a heated debate about less or fewer when applied to units of measurement. I shall be reporting in full soon, I hope, once I have garnered in the learned opinions of some eminent colleagues in this whole pernickety business.

Meanwhile, an email arrived from Martin Edwards, crime novelist, Liverpool lawyer and all-round Renaissance Man of Merseyside, who's just delivered the manuscript of his latest in the Harry Devlin series to his publishers. You can see Martin talking about his most recent Lake District novel here.

I freely admit that I have never been much of a crime fiction fan. I 'did' Agatha Christie in my teens, toyed with some Dorothy L Sayers in my twenties and that was pretty much that. I would from time to time pick up a contemporary crime paperback in a station bookstall, flick through it, think 'what IS the point?' and put it down again. As to the two great ladies at the top of the tree, I never really got on very well with P D James, but I have read and enjoyed all of Ruth Rendell's 'Barbara Vine' novels, which are less about crime and more about psychology, so don't really count, but I find old Inspector Wexford deeply dull, I have to confess. For the rest, there seemed to be so much trashy writing on offer (not to mention hideous book jackets) that I had soon dismissed the entire genre as a worthless sub-species, worlds removed from the kind of 'literary' fiction which interested me. I was, of course, indulging in the literary equivalent of the kind of mindless and dismissive bigotry to which, in other spheres of life, I am wholly opposed. How easily it can happen, though, and how glad I am to have been shown the error of my nasty little ways!

Last year I surprised myself by reading my way through the entire career (to date) of Ian Rankin's Inspector Rebus. What started out as a quest for a bit of light escapism ended with my counting the months until I could get my hands on the next (and final) book in the series. Rebus is a magnificent creation, a character as complex, infuriating and endearing as any I've encountered in fiction. In fact, probably - and I know I'm not alone amongst female readers in this (predictable woman that I am) - it isn't so much the next book I want to get my hands on, as Rebus himself. (And that's not a probably, it's a definitely.) In truth, I rather dread his imminent demise - it's going to be a difficult book to open. (And it is also rather a big nuisance that the Rebus exhibition at the Writers' Museum in Edinburgh will have ended by the time I finally make it up there in mid-October.)

Anyway, that was me and Rankin and Rebus last year. I'd read the best, so there wasn't much point in looking at anything lower down the star-ratings list, was there? And then along came Martin, who is nothing like as well known as Ian Rankin but this is something which must be rectified in the very near future, in my view, because he deserves to be. Though I have, in my ongoing quest to lose friends as fast as possible, pointed out to Martin aspects of some of his books which have annoyed me - and even confessed to having hurled one across the room in a grump when I'd finished it - on the whole they are wonderfully well written, the plots are superbly crafted and the body count (generally) the right side of intolerably gory or improbable. More to the point, for me, these are not plot-driven page-turners, but contain much that resonates long after the pages have, in fact, been turned. The protagonists are psychologically complex and their relationships are subtly drawn, in a way which, as with Rebus, makes the reader care, and engage emotionally in their somewhat troubled lives. They are, in short, wholly believable and interesting characters who just 'happen' to get themselves entangled in some heinous crime or other during the course of the novel. For me, the characters stay in the mind far longer than the twists and turns of the plots, clever though the latter often are.

If you enjoy crime novels, I would urge you to give Martin's a go and let me know what you think. If you studiously ignore that section of your favourite bookshop, then I would say (as we Mrs Doyles are wont to say), g'wan, g'wan, g'wan. Dip your toe in, even just a little weeny toe just a little weeny way - you never know, the water might be more inviting than you think and you'll find yourself happily splashing around in no time.
Oh, and Martin's Equal Opportunities Handbook is pretty damned good as well!

1 comment:

60GoingOn16 said...

What a relief to find someone else who spends time grappling with the nuances of the English language. I'm not sure if this will help your debate concerning 'less than/fewer than' but the Oxford Dictionaries website has a brief explanation here:

I could go on about this at great and tedious length but I won't, for fear of boring your other readers.