Crime fiction/True Crime

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Crime fiction/True Crime

Post  eddie on Mon May 09, 2011 5:03 pm

Mr Briggs' Hat: A Sensational Account of Britain's First Railway Murder by Kate Colquhoun – review

After a juddering start, Kate Colquhoun's account of the first murder on the British railway really gets going

Andrew Martin The Observer, Sunday 8 May 2011


Franz Muller, a German tailor, was hanged in 1864 for the murder of Thomas Briggs. Photograph: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Kate Summerscale scored a bestseller with her elegant account of a sensational mid-Victorian murder, The Suspicions of Mr Whicher. Now, here's an account of an almost equally sensational mid-Victorian murder, also with the word "Mr" in the title, also written by an author called Kate – circumstances tending to arouse in the present reviewer what might be called "The Suspicions of Mr Martin". Is this a proper book or a naked cash-in?


Mr Briggs' Hat: A Sensational Account of Britain's First Railway Murder by Kate Colquhoun

It's true that, unlike the country house murder investigated by Jack Whicher, the killing of 69-year-old Thomas Briggs in a first-class compartment of a North London Railway train on the evening of 9 July 1864 has not often been chronicled at length (even if it does rate a mention in most accounts of Victorian train travel). But at first I thought that Colquhoun was aiming at the bestseller lists with a piece of pure hackery. Early on, there's a pretty vacuous account of the rise of the railways. They spread news of national and international events to "the very edges of the country", would you believe? And in setting the scene of the killing, she writes: "Like most English locomotives at the time, each varnished teak carriage of the North London Railway train was divided into separate, isolated compartments," suggesting she has not absorbed the fairly elemental fact that the locomotive is the engine at the front of the train. (Later, Euston main line station is repeatedly referred to as "Euston Square", which is what the adjacent Underground station came to be called in 1909).

But as Mr Briggs makes his last peregrinations, I began to be drawn in. The particular, dreamy character of this murder is informed by the fact that it happened within the professional context of the City of London, yet on a summer Saturday. Mr Briggs – a senior bank clerk – worked on Saturdays, but only until 3pm. We meet him on Saturday morning, walking from Fenchurch Street station, terminus of the North London Railway, to his office in Lombard Street "under a warming sky filled with clouds smudged by greasy smog". After work, he takes a bus to Peckham in order to give a present to his niece. As he returns to the City in the evening, Colquhoun sketches in a low sun, and swallows wheeling in the sky. Besides writing with real forward momentum, she is good at atmosphere.

At Fenchurch Street, Briggs boarded the 9.45pm train that ought to have taken him to his home station: Hackney. But the train arrived at Hackney without Mr Briggs. Instead, there was a blood-soaked compartment containing what would prove to be Mr Briggs' bag, his stick and a crushed hat that had not belonged to him. The ladies in the next door compartment discovered that their dresses had been stained with drops of blood, which had apparently flown through the window of the one compartment into the next. But nobody had heard anything. Later on that balmy evening, Mr Briggs was found, battered and dying – and minus his gold watch and chain – by the side of the tracks leading to Hackney.

Suspicion soon alighted on a young, down-at-heel German-born tailor called Franz Muller, and Mr Briggs' Hat is a compelling read because innocent explanations are gradually posited for the following, apparently damning facts: that Muller was found in possession of Briggs's watch and possibly his hat; that the hat left in the carriage was also traced to him; that he sailed to America just days after the killing.

Muller was slightly built, and – on the face of it – remarkably inoffensive. Important evidence against him arose from the fact that he kindly gave a jewellers' branded cardboard box to the daughter of a friend to play with. The captain of the ship carrying him to America said that he was "one of the most agreeable passengers on board". When apprehended in New York by Detective Inspector Richard Tanner (who was from the same team of early detectives as Summerscale's Jack Whicher), he mildly inquired: "What is the matter?" On the journey back to Britain, he was very grateful when Tanner gave him The Pickwick Papers to read, and he chortled over the legal entanglements of the hero.

Even though the killing of Briggs was a "stranger murder", about which an urbanised society was becoming increasingly paranoid, it lacked the social and class resonance of Whicher's investigation. It did not, like that case, inspire some classic novels, but rather a sub-genre of crime stories concerning encounters with cads in railway compartments – a tide not stemmed by the introduction of communication cords. This was directly consequent upon the Muller case, as was the introduction, between compartments, of windows called Muller lights (which is now the name of a yoghurt, presumably so called by someone with little knowledge of railway history).

But this doesn't matter. The point is that the weight of evidence is in the balance to the very end. Was a just verdict achieved? The answer, mesmerisingly enough, seems to be "not quite".


Andrew Martin's latest novel is The Somme Stations (Faber)

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2011

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Re: Crime fiction/True Crime

Post  eddie on Fri May 27, 2011 11:23 am

Plugged by Eoin Colfer – review

Can a cult children's writer can cut it in crime?

Mark Lawson guardian.co.uk, Friday 20 May 2011 14.07 BST


Night work ... 'Colfer is an engaging and inventive writer with a strong sense of the rhythm of a story.' Photograph: Peter Dazeley/Getty Images

The rumour that JK Rowling may one day turn to crime has long persisted, despite any declaration of intent from her, because it clearly makes publishing sense to lure escapees from one of publishing's most lucrative genres – children's fiction – into another: mystery and suspense. Eoin Colfer, having achieved global eight-figure sales with the fantasy Artemis Fowl books and other juvenile ventures, is now attempting such a project with Plugged, his first adult crime novel. Colfer also wrote And Another Thing . . . , an impressive extension of the late Douglas Adams's Hitchhiker series, and so there's a sense of a successful author trying on new choices and voices, resisting the trap of being defined by a revered series.


Plugged by Eoin Colfer

In the journey towards crime fiction, Colfer is helped by the fact that his children's hero, Artemis Fowl, was a master criminal. The narrator of Plugged is also quite a dodgy dude. Daniel McEvoy is an ex-soldier, a common background for a character in this form, although his particular experience is promisingly fresh. Dan served with the Irish army, which has specialised in peacekeeping duties around the world – possibly because, as he points out before the reader can, of the excellent record of peaceful co-operation between communities on their own island. He served several tours in Lebanon and still carries shrapnel in his back from a Hezbollah rocket attack. However, now out of uniform and working as a doorman in New Jersey, his main medical concern is tonsorial. We meet Dan while he's waiting for the plugs to take from a recent hair transplant procedure.

This comedy of vanity in an action protagonist alerts us that we are in the territory of comedy crime, in the style of Carl Hiaasen or, on this side of the Atlantic, Christopher Brookmyre and Colin Bateman. Nicely summarising the house style, Dan at one point breaks off from describing a badinage-packed standoff with the baddies to observe: "I don't respond. All this wisecracking is more exhausting than the gunplay."

As shown by that quote, Plugged is told in sardonic monologue, a story-telling form that has the weakness of tipping off the reader that, even in the most tense scenes, the hero must survive; although as the dustjacket declares the novel to be the first of a series, his longevity is already taken as read. And the novel is not completely one-voiced: Dan is granted a kind of psychic sidekick. His best mate from the Lebanon, cosmetic surgeon Zeb Kronski, now missing, believed dead, keeps popping up as a taunting, prompting voice, speaking in italics.

By employing an Irish central character in an American setting, Colfer sensibly combines his own natural linguistic inheritance with a key publishing market. As Dan investigates the murder of an occasional New Jersey girlfriend, coming up against drug dealers and two female detectives with a complex sense of justice, there are numerous telling details, such as the small triangle in the corner of a car windscreen signalling that the glass is bulletproof – which, as our narrator notes, usefully narrows down the driver to "good guys, bad guys, or maybe a rapper praying someone will shoot him".

As he showed with the Artemis Fowl books, Colfer is an engaging and inventive writer with a strong sense of the rhythm of a story, its twists and riffs. His Douglas Adams continuation was also cleverly negotiated without damage to either the host franchise or his own reputation. But that Hitchhiker spin-off was inevitably, at some level, an exercise in superior pastiche; and a sense of prose karaoke also hangs over Plugged.

Always entertaining page by page, the book also has a truly unexpected sex scene and much sassy dialogue. However, there's a recurrent tic in which Dan worries that what's happening doesn't quite feel real to him. "It's what a Hollywood cop might say," he frets about one exchange with a detective. One comment meets the rejoinder that people say that kind of thing "only in movies". When someone kisses Dan, he frets that it's "like a movie kiss".

At the risk of sounding like Simon Moriarty, the Freudian army shrink who treats Dan's post-Lebanon stress disorder, these repeated references to the secondhand fictionality of the exercise might be taken as a psychological signal that Colfer fears a movie screen is intervening between him and his computer screen, that he is putting on borrowed clothes. In his experiments beyond the youth shelves, he is proving impressively versatile, but he needs to be wary of losing his own voice.

Mark Lawson's Enough is Enough is published by Picador.

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2011

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Re: Crime fiction/True Crime

Post  eddie on Mon Jun 13, 2011 9:45 pm

Survey anatomises British taste for murder

Research for Crime Writers' Association finds average crime novel's body count is 8.38

Alison Flood guardian.co.uk, Monday 13 June 2011 10.33 BST


Crime scene. Photograph: Alamy

Sliced to death in an olive machine? Decapitated by a glider cable? Squashed by a large brass wind instrument? These are just some of the ways in which victims were murdered over the last year by the UK's crime novelists.

A survey of the country's crime fiction authors by the Crime Writers' Association found that the average body count in crime novels over the last year was 8.38, with one particularly bloodthirsty writer killing off a whopping 150 victims. Means of killing varied from getting taxidermied alive to being poisoned with soluble aspirin and Ribena, given anaphylactic shock by bees in a wicket-keeper's inner glove, and getting trapped inside a Damien Hirst-style art installation.

The "Bloodthirsty Britain" survey was carried out to mark the start of National Crime Writing Week. Other inventive means of murder included rigging a euphonium to land on the victim's head, putting super glue in the victim's mouth and nostrils to suffocate them to death, and having the victim gored to death on the horns of a goat, said the CWA.

Despite the grisly ends met by so many of crime fiction's characters, one writer, asked why they enjoyed the genre, said that it can "illuminate and celebrate the human condition, not just tell grim stories". Another was considerably more bloodthirsty. Crime "creates suspense and allows you to explore the wicked/bad side of your own character that you don't actually want to act upon in real life. [It] allows you a window into that world without you having to participate," the writer said.

Bestselling crime novelist Peter James, chair of the CWA, said the survey's grisly findings "underline why readers so love crime writing".

"One of the big campaigns undertaken by the CWA at the moment is to support libraries and we know that crime forms the most popular genre when it comes to borrowings," said James. "This research emphasises the reason why it remains so popular."

Writers taking part in National Crime Writing Week include the award-winning Frances Fyfield and Ann Cleeves, former police officer and author of the Joe Hunter books Matt Hilton and the novelist SJ Bolton, whose thriller Blood Harvest was shortlisted for the Gold Dagger prize, with events taking place across the country.

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2011

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Re: Crime fiction/True Crime

Post  eddie on Mon Jun 13, 2011 9:52 pm

This is the best True Crime book I've read in the last year or so, an account of an infamous 1860 Victorian country house murder case:



The official website tells you everything you need to know about book and author. Click here:

http://www.mrwhicher.com/

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Re: Crime fiction/True Crime

Post  eddie on Sun Jul 03, 2011 4:52 pm

Criminal confessions

From safe crackers to cold-blooded hitmen, generations of outlaws have committed their high-octane lives to print. As one of Britain's best-known crime correspondents, Duncan Campbell spent his career in the company of such men. Here, he explores our appetite for their gory memoirs


Duncan Campbell The Observer, Sunday 3 July 2011


Gangster Billy Hill (on the right, with Hannen Swaffer – aka The Pope of Fleet Street – in the middle, and theatre impresario Henry Sherek) in 1955 Photograph: Bert Hardy/Getty Images

"My uncle Frank was a burglar and our family never saw any harm in that," runs the opening paragraph of Burglar to the Nobility, the autobiography of John "Ruby" Sparks. "But my mother did object to the way that he smooched around in baggy trousers, his jersey a different colour under the arms where sweat made it look as if a custard tart had melted there."

It is 50 years since the idiosyncratic confessions of one of the last century's most colourful villains was published, but the appetite for criminal memoirs remains as strong as ever. This month, some of the country's best-known former inmates will discuss how one of the simplest escape routes from prison and a life of crime is writing, at the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate. The law-abiding reader remains prepared to forgive almost anything in exchange for a glimpse of the wild side of life.

Few criminals today would manage to slip a melted custard tart and their uncle's sweaty armpits into their opening paragraph but Sparks was writing for a public that was still uncertain about its attitude to criminals chuckling over their misdeeds. "Ruby" Sparks had a number of claims to fame, including the nickname he acquired as a boy when he burgled a Mayfair mansion and stole £45,000- worth of a maharajah's rubies which he then gave away, mistaking them for cheap imitation jewels. In the 1920s he introduced motorised smash-and-grab to the streets of London with the assistance of getaway driver Lillian Goldstein, a middle-class young woman from Wembley; and he was a leader of the Dartmoor Mutiny, during which the inmates briefly took over the prison in 1932.

His book is a classic of the period, ghosted in larky, Runyonesque prose by Norman Price, with every robbery a "tickle" worth loads of "crinkle". Sparks ponders on why criminals spend the money they steal so swiftly: "It probably sounds a bit milky if I was to say now the reason which makes thieves and villains get through their ill-gotten wages so sharpish is they must inside themselves feel somehow guilty about it, but there's got to be some explanation why we all raced the gelt like we did." He concludes by explaining that he is now content to run a newsagent's in Chalk Farm and just wishes he had gone in for a "straight business" 40 years earlier.

Sadly, Goldstein never wrote her own memoirs, although Sparks credits her with some of the most inventive of his criminal techniques: she encouraged him to take bulldog paperclips with him on his smash-and-grabs to hold the cuts on his hands and arms together until she could stitch them up. She is quoted in the book as she bids a final farewell to Sparks, explaining her unwillingness to take part in a robbery with two young criminals which would involve throwing ammonia in someone's face: "I've had this Bandit Queen lark, crime is for kids – like those two greasy-haired spiv wonders – not for grown-ups."

Sparks was following in the footsteps of Eddie Guerin, whose Crime: The Autobiography of a Crook had been published in 1928. The London-born Guerin made his name as "king of the underworld" in Chicago and Paris, where he robbed the American Express office in 1901. His reputation was partly based on the belief that he had escaped from Devil's Island although it had, in fact, been another French penal colony. He clearly relished his early career – "what a red-hot game it was" – but acknowledged that "probably there will be readers who turn up their noses in disgust over a criminal setting down in cold print the unsavoury experiences of the past."

The book that set the postwar standard for the genre was Billy Hill's autobiography Boss of Britain's Underworld, ghosted by Duncan Webb, the enigmatic crime correspondent of the People. The launch party, in 1955, was held at Gennaro's – now the Groucho Club – and the Sunday Times reported it as an event that "made even Soho gasp… The guests included Sir Bernard and Lady Docker [celebrities before celebrities existed], former CID officers and many of London's scar-faced underworld."


From left: Soho Ted, Bugsy, Groin Frankie, Billy Hill, Ruby Sparks, Razor Frankie, College Harry, Frany the Spaniel, Cherry Bill, Johnny Ricco, a female journalist and Russian Ted enjoy the launch party for Billy Hill’s autobiography. Photograph: Bert Hardy/Getty Images

Guests were presented with a souvenir document bearing a red seal with Hill's autograph and fingerprints attached, and the proceedings opened with a blast from a police whistle. Hill's pals dressed up in masks and toy police helmets. Facetious congratulatory telegrams were read out. "Sorry I can't be here – I'm in a spot, Jack," said one – a crack at the expense of Hill's great underworld rival, Jack "Spot" Comer. "Will you send us back our mail – we miss it. Postmaster general," read another, a reference to Hill's role in the 1952 £287,000 robbery of a post office van for which no one was ever charged. Lady Docker and Hill posed for photographs together, while champagne and saddles of mutton were served.

The event was also covered by the Picture Post, with snaps by Bert Hardy, one of the great photographers of the era, and included shots of a chap known as "Striper". Not all of the media was impressed. The Daily Sketch's Simon Ward told his readers that there had been "nothing like it since the days of Al Capone in Chicago" and suggested that Hill had thrown "an astonishing party to cock a snook at the police".

Crime fiction writer Dreda Say Mitchell, author of Geezer Girls and Running Hot, and chair of this year's Harrogate festival, studied the criminal memoir long before she started her career. "I was a big reader of them even before I began writing as so many are based in the East End, where I grew up," she says. "Lennie 'The Guv' McLean's scrapyard was round the corner from our estate and The Blind Beggar (where Ronnie Kray shot George Cornell dead) was half a mile away. When it comes to writing crime though, [criminal memoirs] are not that helpful because they're nearly always co-written with professional journalists who know what publishers and readers want to hear – that the hero is a cross between Jesse James and Robin Hood – so the material is edited accordingly."

How such memoirs are regarded inside prison is another matter. "I had never read a criminal memoir before I went to prison," says Erwin James, who wrote a column about prison life for the Guardian during the final years of the 20 he served. "Books about crime and prison are among the most popular with prisoners. I think that's because, as a convicted criminal, in my case convicted of murder, you feel the weight of society's disgust and disapproval heavily and reading about how others in similar situations dealt with it can bring a lot of comfort."


Erwin James, writer and ex-prisoner. Photograph: David Levene

James, whose latest book, Life Before A Life Inside, is published next year, rates Papillon, by Henri Charrière, as the best of the genre. Others he values are Guerin's book, and Respect by Freddie Foreman, Autobiography of a Thief by Bruce Reynolds and Autobiography of a Murderer by Hugh Collins. He recalls reading Knightsbridge: Robbery of the Century, by Valerio Viccei, about the safety deposit heist which netted an estimated £40m in 1987. Viccei – "the Italian stallion" as the tabloids had him – was killed in 2000 in a shoot-out with police outside Rome when on day release from prison. No newsagent's in Chalk Farm for him.

"I was never usually drawn to books that affected to make criminal lifestyles appear glamorous," says James. "Meeting the often charismatic people you read about in the popular press – who operated as highly organised professional robbers, sometimes stealing tens of millions in cash, or gold – while they can indeed be attractive and compelling individuals and stand high in the prisoner hierarchy, the only real difference is that the photos they display on their cell walls are of luxury cars, big houses and expensive holiday locations. As the years pass in prison you see them getting old, missing families and harbouring huge regrets just like everyone else."

Former armed robber Noel "Razor" Smith, author of the much-admired A Few Kind Words and a Loaded Gun (2004) and A Rusty Gun (2010) was also initially wary of the criminal autobiography. "The reason I didn't want to write my own memoirs in the first place was because I had read so many of them and they were all the same. Reading their books you might be forgiven for believing that these geezers never lost a fight, always nicked over a million quid and never had a moment of fear or self-doubt. In the end I wanted to do something unique in the true-crime autobiography game: tell the actual truth! Sometimes I got my head kicked in and sometimes I went on a robbery and got nothing; that's what life as a criminal is really like."


Ex-con turned writer Noel “Razor” Smith in prison. Photograph: Sean Smith for the Guardian

In A Few Kind Words, Smith ruefully recalls his botched jobs, including one where he tried to hold up a newsagent's with a Luger pistol only to be told by its Ugandan-Asian proprietor, with commendable sang-froid, "Your gun is unloaded – you are minus the magazine. And you swear far too much for such a young man." An abashed Smith bought a Mars Bar instead. He reflects in A Rusty Gun: "When you're young and strong and you can afford to throw away a decade or two in some pisshole prison and still have plenty of life left to live, it's all a big laugh. Then you wake up one morning and see a strange face staring back at you from the shaving mirror. Some old geezer with bitter, weary eyes where there used to be a devil-may-care twinkle."

Cass Pennant was jailed for four years as a leader of the notorious West Ham football hooligans, the Inter City Firm (ICF). He emerged from prison not only to write a successful memoir, Cass, which was made into a film in 2008, but also to start a publishing house, Pennant Books, which has since brought out other tales of life on the wrong side of the law. He attributes the success of his book to the fact that it was truthful. "One thing I wanted to be sure of was that, if I had my own story published, it would be an honest one." McVicar by Himself, the autobiography of former robber John McVicar, is another volume that led to an eponymous film, starring Roger Daltrey.

Among the most original memoirs is Gentleman Thief (1995) by Peter Scott, who made and lost a fortune burgling the homes of the wealthy and notoriously stole Sophia Loren's diamonds. "Readers may relish the idea of a 'master criminal'; alas, such people don't exist," wrote Scott, now 80 and living on a rough estate in King's Cross, London. "Raffles was the stuff of fiction. Thieves in the main get caught. Persistent ones get caught more frequently, few escape the narrow aisles of pain." Freddie Foreman, author of Respect (1997), concludes by telling his fellow cons to "read everything and try to educate yourself towards a better life. The old ways have gone. Computers. Now that's the best advice I can give. There must be a clue there to have a good touch."


Reggie Kray with Barbara Windsor. Photograph: popperfoto

While the best book on the Kray twins remains a biography (John Pearson's Profession of Violence), the brothers' criminal careers helped to spawn more than a score of mainly unremarkable reminiscences by various henchmen. One familiar strand in such memoirs is to sound off about the sex offenders with whom the author has to share prison space. Thus Ronnie Knight (club owner, wide boy, former husband of Barbara Windsor) in Blood and Revenge: "What they need is branding on the forehead with a red-hot poker then decent rascals would know to blank them." So far, this is not among the government's beefed-up criminal justice proposals. Most memoirs are by former gangsters and robbers with only the occasional drugs smuggler (Howard Marks and his best seller Mr Nice) or informer (Maurice O'Mahoney and King Squealer) making an appearance.

The most successful are those that include self-reflection. Jimmy Boyle, former Glasgow hardman-turned-sculptor, wrote his autobiography, A Sense of Freedom, in 1977 in Barlinnie Prison. Boyle noted: "In writing the book in a manner that expresses all the hatred and rage that I felt at the time... I have been told that I lose the sympathy of the reader and that this isn't wise for someone who is still owned by the state and dependent on the authorities for a parole date... The book is a genuine attempt to warn young people that there is nothing glamorous about getting involved in crime and violence."

Two laws passed in the last decade could affect the business of true crime writing. The Criminal Justice Act of 2003 effectively brought an end to the concept of "double jeopardy". Previously, once a person had been acquitted of a crime they could not be retried for the same offence. This meant that a murderer could, if found not guilty, boast of it in a memoir without fear of the consequences. No more. Now an admission of a gangland hit could be all that the Director of Public Prosecutions requires to reopen a case.

No law prevents criminals from publishing their memoirs but there are restrictions on profiting from them, as enacted by the Coroners and Justice Act 2009. This enables courts to recover any assets that a criminal has acquired as a result of writing about their crimes. That money then goes into something called the Consolidated Fund. Those still serving a sentence can be prevented from publishing while in custody, as happened to serial killer Dennis Nilsen, whose autobiographical manuscript was confiscated. During the debate on the bill Baroness Rendell of Babergh (aka Ruth Rendell) pointed out that Jean Genet's The Thief's Journal might have fallen foul of such a law. In fact, great train robber Bruce Reynolds called his own memoir Autobiography of a Thief as a homage to Genet, whom he admired.

But neither of these laws, which have been only half-heartedly enforced since their enactment, seem likely to dent the public fascination with first-hand accounts of the criminal life. What George Orwell described in his essay, Decline of the English Murder, as the nation's "all-prevailing hypocrisy" should ensure that true crime will always find shelf space beside its fictional brothers and sisters. "When God erects a house of prayer, the devil always builds a chapel there," wrote Daniel Defoe, an ex-con who did a bit of writing himself. "And 'twill be found, upon examination, the latter has the larger congregation."


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Re: Crime fiction/True Crime

Post  Doc Watson on Sun Jul 10, 2011 1:18 pm

True Crime was one of the biggest selling sections in the bookshop I used to own , maybe it was just the area . I am not sure. Most of the buyers were women again I am not sure why . It was also the section from which most books were stolen !
Some crime fiction was very popular, however it was not as strong an area for sales as True Crime.

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Re: Crime fiction/True Crime

Post  eddie on Fri Jul 22, 2011 9:09 pm

PD James: a lifetime of crime

The writer talks about sexual violence in literature, the phone-hacking scandal – and why her new book might come as a surprise

Julie Bindel guardian.co.uk, Thursday 21 July 2011 18.30 BST


PD James: ‘We should have the freedom to make mistakes.’ Photograph: Geraint Lewis/Rex Features

PD James has been responsible for scores of rather nasty murders during the past five decades. But even one of the best imaginations in the whodunnit genre has to move with the times. While her most famous creation, policeman Adam Dalgliesh of New Scotland Yard, still has a huge and deeply loyal following, James has recently introduced gay characters into her novels; in another, an academic lost her job because the classics department made way for a media studies centre.

"What I do find difficult to understand is much of the behaviour and language of adolescents," she says. "I was researching what a 15-year-old would call the police. Is it Fizz or something? I can't keep up with it. In my day they were Bobbies."

James, AKA Phyllis Dorothy James, or Baroness James of Holland Park, OBE, is speaking to me from her home, just before she heads off to pick up a lifetime achievement award at a crime writing festival in Harrogate. "Being almost 91 makes receiving a lifetime achievement award all the more appropriate," James chuckles.

While Val McDermid and many contemporary female crime writers are increasingly developing plotlines involving serial killers and extremely violent sex crime, James can appear almost genteel and quaint in comparison. "My characters have sexual lives but there is no need for it to be so detailed. What I don't like is sexual gratuity. I don't want to write or read about lots of men writhing around."

Does James think female crime writers face particular barriers? She is reluctant to say, but reminds me of her female detective character Cordelia Gray, who has a more difficult time than her male contemporaries. "It is not a feminist plotline, but the reality is that a woman in her position would face difficulties that men would not. It is an inevitable part of her life."

For James, there are far more moral and ethical dilemmas to face today than when she was a young woman. She is concerned about the debate regarding assisted suicide and believes that it can be an encouragement to murder in some circumstances. "Death always advantages someone. I believe in the right of people who are living in torture to decide to end their lives but I am against any legal way to kill someone who wants to die. I would do it and face the consequences. I do not expect my country to change the law to suit my circumstances."

James took the Tory whip in the House of Lords, but insists she is not a "staunch Conservative". "I believe in the greatest possible freedom to the individual. I don't like this over-governing, and that is what we appear to have at present. We should have the freedom to make mistakes. My strongest belief is the importance of loving each other."

As she applies a stringent moral code in her novels, so she does in real life. We turn to the News International scandal. "Like all powerful people Murdoch has made enemies and there are many people who wish to keep the indignation going. But the Milly Dowler situation is appalling, and the person who gave the orders for her phone to be hacked can have no humanity at all. There is a dominant doctrine that says if you are the head of an organisation you fall on your sword when something goes wrong, and I think that is right. But it seems to no longer apply to bankers or politicians," she chuckles.

"And [former Met commissioner Sir Paul] Stephenson was guilty of what exactly?" she continues. "We've lost a good policeman."

Now, on days when she is working on a novel, James rises early and writes in longhand. Her secretary then types up her words, helps with emails and post, and organises James's diary. "I can barely do emails and am worse on my computer than a six-year-old," she says.

What is she currently writing? "A new novel, not Dalgliesh, which means that some people will be disappointed, but it is one I have been promising myself I would do for some time." Is it a departure from the Dalgliesh genre? Again she laughs. "Yes it is. I think you will be surprised.

"At my age the reality is that you just don't know what is around the corner. Once you are over 90 it is a bumpy ride."


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Re: Crime fiction/True Crime

Post  eddie on Tue Jul 26, 2011 6:14 am

Partners in crime fiction

Philip Marlowe, George Smiley, Nancy Drew, Count Fosco ... detectives, spies and villains are among our best-loved fictional characters. As the crime-writing world comes together for its annual festival, top authors in the genre choose their favourites. But who is your most wanted?

guardian.co.uk, Friday 22 July 2011 09.00 BST



Thriller instinct ... Patrick Stewart and Alec Guinness in the 1979 TV adaptation of John Le Carré's Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. Photo: Everett Collection/Rex Features


Benjamin Black

The series of Parker books by Richard Stark – aka Donald Westlake – which began in the 1960s and ended with the author's sudden death on the last day of 2008 are among the finest crime novels of the past 50 years. Parker – we do not learn his first name, if indeed he has one – is an elemental force, a Nietzschean Übermensch beyond good and evil as well as the long arm of the law. He has no past outside the books, and no life except the one that his woman, Clare, makes for him. He is a sort of marvellous machine, and utterly convincing.

When we first encountered him, in The Hunter, published in 1962, he was a bit of a thug, "big and shaggy, with flat square shoulders and arms too long in sleeves too short", resembling the actor Jack Palance on whom Stark had modelled him. But as the series progressed he became leaner and smoother, a true professional, clinical, disinterested, ruthless, a man to see the job done and get away clean. The premise of nearly all the novels, however, is that something has gone wrong that Parker must fix, and will fix, no matter how many people have to be disposed of in the process. Not that Parker enjoys killing; in fact, he does his best to avoid it, since corpses make for a mess and clutter up the scene.

The books are all being republished by the admirable University of Chicago Press – it tickled Westlake that Parker should appear under an academic imprint – and among them are at least half a dozen masterpieces. They are intricately plotted, cool as burnished steel, exciting and intellectually satisfying.

Lee Child

My favourite crime series character? Instant temptation to name someone obscure, to prove I read more than you. Second temptation is to go full-on erudite, maybe asking whether someone from some 12th-century ballad isn't really the finest ever . . . as if to say, hey, I might make my living selling paperbacks out of the drugstore rack, but really I'm a very serious person.

Third temptation is to pick someone from way back who created or defined the genre. But the problem with characters from way back is that they're from, well, way back. Like the Model T Ford. It created and defined the automobile market. You want to drive one to work tomorrow? No, I thought not. You want something that built on its legacy and left it far behind.

Same for crime series characters. So, which one took crime fiction's long, grand legacy, and respected it, and yet still came out with something fresh and new and significant? Martin Beck is the one. He exists in 10 1960s and 70s novels by the Swedish Marxist team of Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö. They did two things with Beck: they created the normal-cop-in-a-normal-city paradigm, the dour guy a little down on his luck; and they used a crime series explicitly as social critique. All was not well in Sweden, they thought, and they said so through accessible entertainment rather than political screeds.

And along the way they gave birth to a whole stream of successors. From the current Scandinavians to Martin Cruz Smith's Arkady Renko to Ian Rankin's John Rebus, they're all Martin Beck's grandchildren.

Len Deighton

". . . a dirty rapscallion of a boy with a crooked tie and a grimy collar". So said the caption to one of Thomas Henry's wonderful drawings with which all the William books are illustrated. William Brown's simple and undaunted opposition to authority in all its many forms captivated me as soon as I started reading of his adventures. I was about eight years old.

Richmal Crompton (1890-1969), classics scholar and creator of William, regarded these stories as "potboilers". But from the time the first collection was published in 1922 she touched a nerve with many thousands of readers, both young and old. There are 38 William books in all, short stories rather than novels. Most writers do not fully understand the source of their creations, and it is Crompton's satire that makes so many readers laugh aloud at William's terrible truths. In the summer of 1923, Crompton – a kind and delightful lady by all accounts – was stricken by polio. Unmarried and with little money, she became dependent on her writing talents. Such was the success of William's anarchic philosophy that by 1927 she had a fine house built to her own design.

Lucky Jim, Harry Potter and Adrian Mole can all trace their family tree back to William and his long-suffering family. It is William's spirit of upbeat anarchy that distinguishes so many British crime stories from their tough-guy American counterparts. His pronouncements are social, political and philosophical but his adventures are catastrophic. William does not recognise catastrophe. Britain's wartime slogan "Keep calm and carry on" might have been his motto. Is William English, rather than British? I think so. Is he a male chauvinist pig? Undoubtedly. Did Richmal Crompton know what she was doing? Perhaps not: but what writer does?

RJ Ellory

The single-minded investigator; the man who possesses an almost inherent ability to comprehend the utterly irrational "rationale" of the serial killer, to live "inside his skin", to see the world through his eyes, and thus predict his intentions.

For me, this character is perhaps best personified by Thomas Harris's Will Graham. We meet him in Red Dragon in 1981. He's mentioned only in passing in The Silence of the Lambs and yet – such is the stature of this character – he has become a representation of the troubled, lone investigator.

Graham is a masterpiece of characterisation. First and foremost a homicide detective in New Orleans, he then studied forensic science at George Washington University. Assigned to a teaching post at the FBI Academy, he possesses a profound ability to empathise with the serial killers he pursues. He is haunted by this ability. He seeks to escape from his internal world, but cannot deny the obligation to identify those who perpetrate such heinous crimes. Graham is a legend, responsible for the killing of the serial killer known as the "Minnesota Shrike" and the capture of the "Chesapeake Ripper", aka Hannibal Lecter. He later consults with Lecter regarding an investigation into yet another killer, the "Tooth Fairy".

We see into Graham's inner world, and yet much of it remains obscured. We want him to look, to delve ever deeper into the darkness, but we know that with each further journey he takes into this underworld of the human psyche, he'll lose a little more of his humanity. We want him to succeed, but we appreciate the price he pays for that success. We admire his courage, his perseverance, his brilliance, but we are almost afraid of his darker self. We wonder, even, if he will ultimately become that which he so intensely loathes. As Nietzsche wrote: "He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster."

Frederick Forsyth

"Broke the mould" is an overused expression but sometimes it is absolutely fitting. One such occasion was the publication of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. Eight words is too long, but never mind. This book shattered all previous conceptions of espionage. It put an end to the image of Kiplingesque schoolboys playing the Great Game on the Northwest Frontier, to Richard Hannay's ineffable naivety against the German imperial war machine, the languid Ashendens exchanging pleasantries in scented salons, and to the great-fun-but-ridiculous James Bonds as convincing portrayals of anything resembling the real thing.

It revealed espionage as the devious, sly, unscrupulous practice of deception and mendacity – all for Queen and country. And it featured the master of them all, then and ever since: George Smiley. He was a fleeting figure in From the Cold but triumphed in the subsequent trilogy.

For those who read the books and saw the superb TV series, the mental image will always be that of the late, great Alec Guinness. He gave us the gentle ruthlessness, the onion-layered mind, the soft-spoken lethality of what we would like to think of as a senior British intelligence officer. The fact they are nothing like that is just bad luck. In daydreams Smiley will always remain the consummate spymaster.

Nicci French

The leading characters in Wilkie Collins's The Woman in White show that the greatest thrillers are written half with sharp, shining intelligence and half with murky, moonlit subconscious.

Close your eyes and what do you remember of the book? Shadows, ghosts, ruins and doppelgängers. A madwoman emerging from a Hampstead fog. The villain, Count Fosco, who keeps white mice in his pocket. Marian Halcombe, an intrepid heroine with, of all things, a light moustache – the reader sees her first from behind, dark-haired and shapely; then she turns and is revealed as ugly.

Marian Halcombe's ugliness makes her unmarriageable and unacceptable as a heroine of a Victorian novel. Fosco alone is captivated by her vitality and intelligence and judges her a worthy antagonist. Fosco himself is enormously fat, unfathomably clever, charismatic and gleefully villainous. He concocts a baroque crime, seemingly for his own enjoyment, and ours.

In the second half of the novel, Collins loses his nerve and subordinates and constrains Fosco and Marian in favour of the pallid official hero and heroine. Penniless, decent Walter Hartright and the pretty orphan-heiress Laura Fairlie are as bland as their names.

But Fosco remains the prototype of the gleeful villain, from Ernst Blofeld to Hannibal Lecter, while Marian Halcombe is a new kind of heroine – excluded, overlooked, even by Collins, yet one of the greatest female characters in Victorian literature. These two – the spooky, smiling gothic grotesque and the strong, unsung, unseen feminist – break though the book's official structure and remain in our imaginations long after the fevered story is done.

Tess Gerritsen

Ask any female American crime writer which fictional sleuth most influenced her early interest in the genre and chances are the answer will be: Nancy Drew, of course! Written by a number of authors under the pseudonym Carolyn Keene, the Nancy Drew novels featured a plucky 18-year-old amateur sleuth whose curiosity and single-minded pursuit of answers often lands her in tricky situations. As a child, I spent many a night huddled under the sheet with a flashlight, reading about Nancy's latest death-defying escape. Armed only with courage and cleverness (and sometimes with the help of her two loyal girlfriends), Nancy proved that girls, too, could track down bad guys. She inspired female crime writers as well as a whole generation of feminists who saw, thanks to Nancy, that the adventures we yearned for were within our reach.

Sophie Hannah

Two of my favourite characters from crime fiction are the late Jill McGown's detective duo, Lloyd and Hill. When McGown died a few years ago, every obituary I read called her police protagonists "Danny Lloyd and Judy Hill", which is wrong. Hill's first name is Judy, but Lloyd's is not Danny. Readers find out after several novels that his name is Desiré – which can be a boy's name, according to Lloyd's mother, as long as it has only one "e" at the end. I love Lloyd and Hill because of the relationship they have to the books that contain them. They are relatively normal, functioning people: Lloyd is more outgoing and optimistic than Hill; Hill is cleverer and better at making intuitive mystery-solving leaps – their everyday ordinariness is their main characteristic. They are a warm, likeable couple (though Judy has overly rigid boundaries at times) and they love each other deeply; they have the odd domestic problem, but nothing insurmountable. They live in a bog-standard fictional English town which is neither beautiful nor remarkable. All this works brilliantly with McGown's intricate maze-like plots. Contact with outlandishly puzzling events is what makes Lloyd and Hill fascinating – the way their minds and lives work when faced with seemingly impossible situations. They are not overloaded with exaggerated character traits, or cumbersome music or whisky collections that need to be itemised in every chapter; they change subtly over the course of the series, but readers can rely on them remaining stable enough to be able to give their full attention to each tangled mystery they encounter. If the mysteries in McGown's books were less baroque, less challenging, I wouldn't appreciate Lloyd and Hill's understatedness nearly as much. As it is, they never try to compete for my attention with the mysteries we're all three of us focused on. It's a huge shame that McGown's books are largely out of print. She is the rightful heir to Agatha Christie's plotting throne.

Arnaldur Indridason

George Smiley, as Sir Alec Guinness played him in the BBC series Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and Smiley's People, is one of my favourite characters in crime fiction. It is a memorable performance by one of the greatest actors who ever lived.

Watching him play the detective/policeman/spy by doing as little as humanly possible in the form of acting is pure joy. His face, almost entirely framed inside those huge black glasses, reminds you how dramatic minimalist acting can be compared to the extravaganza of method acting.

Smiley seemed to be the archetypal British official, never showing much feeling, barely lifting an eyebrow over anything he saw or heard. He meticulously went from one place to another trying to find out what was going on. He didn't seem to have any great passion for what he did, or any great interest either. It was just part of the daily routine of a man who at this point in life was hard to surprise. He had lived it all and was not terribly impressed. (It was such a great performance that to this day I haven't read the books. My favourite John le Carré novel is actually A Perfect Spy, translated into Icelandic in 1987.)

Did I learn anything as a writer from Guinness and Smiley? I always look for realism in my books and expecially in the characters, and if there is anything I took away from them it is the interest in the banality of detective work and the wonderful power that comes with being unimpressed.

PD James

To choose one's favourite detective is never easy. Old friends sometimes lose their dominance while new arrivals have the attraction of novelty and contemporary realism. But for me GK Chesterton's Father Brown has never lost his appeal. This dumpy Essex priest, with a face as round as a Norfolk dumpling and an inability to manage his large, shabby umbrella or even to know which is the right part of a return ticket, could not be more different from the golden age heroes of detective fiction. We know little about his life as a priest and are not told his age, or even his Christian name. He makes his first quiet appearance unannounced and applies his moral certainties and unique deductive powers to crimes in a variety of settings, some exotic, across the whole social and economic spectrum. Nothing and no one is alien to him, and his story is told by a master of English prose in a style that is complex, imaginative, poetic and spiced with paradox. To read all the Father Brown short stories at one sitting would be richly indigestible; taken singly they remain an irresistible feast. Endearingly human but also mysterious, Chesterton's little priest still provides the best of company.

Lynda La Plante

Evelyn Waugh described Raymond Chandler in the late 1940s as the greatest living American novelist. He wrote his first book, The Big Sleep, at the age of 50. His career until then had been varied, veering between rich, poor, drunk, teetotal, and often despondent. He had witnessed earthquakes, and lived through prohibition and the depression. Living in Los Angeles, he was privy to the glamorous Hollywood era and saw the corruption at first hand. He knew Howard Hawks, Lucky Luciano and Alfred Hitchcock and worked on screenplays with Billy Wilder. Chandler loved women but was deeply in love with Cissy, his wife of 30 years, who was delicate, beautiful and 17 years his senior. He was a reclusive, complex, sometimes vulnerable man, often a very tedious drunk but with a wired sense of humour and wit. Shortly before his death Chandler described his greatest creation, Philip Marlowe, as a man always lonely, but never defeated.

"You're Marlowe?"

I nodded.

"I'm a little disappointed," he said, "I rather expected something with dirty finger nails."

"Come inside," I said, "and you can be witty sitting down."

(The High Window, 1942)

A letter from Chandler to a film producer describes in detail how Marlowe must never say anything simply to score off other characters, that he should not always be given the punch or exit line. Chandler was asked if he ever read his own fiction and this is his reply: "Yes, at the very risk of being called an egotistical twerp, I find it damned hard to put down. Even me that knows all about it. There must be some magic in writing after all, but I take no credit for it. It just happens, like red hair."

I read and reread Chandler. I laugh at his wit, his turn of phrase; I am in awe of his brilliant character descriptions. At the root of all his work, which began late but, due to his prolific talent, thankfully remains accessible, is a complex man. Philip Marlowe is the best detective ever written, and all his novels are damned hard to put down.

Val McDermid

Picking a favourite character from the pages of crime fiction is like being asked to choose your favourite wine. So much depends on mood and circumstance. Dry and flinty; rich and tangy; sweet and complex; which is it going to be? Well, today, I'm in the mood for deception and anarchy, so I'm going to plump for Detective Superintendent Andrew Dalziel, aka the Fat Man.

Nothing about Andy Dalziel is quite what it seems. Even his name is a trap for the unwary, its pronunciation – "Dayell" – at odds with what we see on the page. Dalziel is corpulent but not clumsy. His vulgarity is seldom casual and masks a man who always knows what the appropriate behaviour is but doesn't always choose it. Just when you write him off as the epitome of crassness, he'll demonstrate a disarming sensitivity.

Reginald Hill's creation is the head of CID in the mythical Mid Yorkshire, an area that encompasses both the charm and repulsiveness of all three real Ridings. And Dalziel seems to me to encompass much of what we imagine to be the defining characteristics of Yorkshiremen. He's blunt and bluff, stubborn and tenacious, dangerous and defiant. He loves good ale, Scotch whisky, traditional food in substantial quantities and rugby league.

But because Hill is a shrewd and cunning writer, over 24 novels he has given us a character who rises above the stereotype. Just when you think you've got Dalziel pinned down, he shifts; the light catches him differently and we see another facet to his complicated personality. He's clever. He's surprisingly fast on his feet. He's better-read than he ever lets on, he's funny, and he scrubs up well enough to have charmed his personal bit of posh totty, Amanda "Cap" Marvell.

Let's all raise a glass to the Fat Man.

Sara Paretsky

Georgia Cavendish Strangeways is one of the most complex and likeable characters in the crime fiction of the so-called Golden Age, the 1920s and 30s. Created by Nicholas Blake (pen-name of the poet C Day-Lewis), she first appeared in 1936 in Thou Shell of Death, where she and Blake's private investigator, Nigel Strangeways, fall in love. In The Smiler with the Knife (1939), Georgia and Nigel are living in a remote Dorset cottage when they stumble on a locket with a portrait and token hidden inside. They think nothing of it until a neighbour spots it and makes it clear that he's worried about what they've seen.

When Nigel reports the episode to his uncle, Sir John, assistant commissioner of New Scotland Yard, he recognises the token as belonging to the most dangerous of the proto-fascist groups he's trying to infiltrate and asks Georgia to go undercover. She and Nigel are to institute divorce proceedings over her fascist politics. She will go to the house parties where disaffected English gentry gather to grumble about socialism and the better way the Germans have of running their country. "It's somewhere among the rich families that we've got to look for the centre of the movement," Sir John says. "You're a legend yourself: this movement would be glad to make use of you." When Georgia demurs – she doesn't want to leave Nigel, and it will make her ill to act as though she supports fascism – Sir John says, "I'm asking you to do it for England."

Georgia agrees, and for 250 nerve-tingling pages, she plays cat-and-mouse with the English Banner's charismatic leader. In a major confrontation, she blinds him, but is nearly blinded and killed herself before her adventure ends and she does, in fact, save England.

The danger of homegrown fascism was one that many English crime writers tackled in the year before the second world war started. Some modern readers claim that Blake's plot is absurd, but, as Martin Pugh points out in Hurrah for the Blackshirts!, Lord Rothermere's Daily Mail was an enthusiastic public sponsor of Oswald Mosley, and many wealthy and/or titled Britons belonged to groups that shared Mosley's views.

Nicholas Blake, unlike any other Golden Age writer whose work I know, not only had strong and believable female protagonists, but his women could be sexually active and still on the side of the angels. In an era when a divorced or widowed woman was treated as if she were the serpent in crime fiction's garden, Blake boldly allowed married women to have extra-marital affairs. In most books, the sexually active woman is either killed or turns out to be the villain, with the notable exception of Dorothy L Sayers's Harriet Vane, who is arrested and tormented for her affair, and then must endure seven years of celibacy as penance.

In The Smiler with the Knife, Blake took his liking for women to the next level, and let Georgia have her own adventure. Georgia, who knows how to use a revolver and is used to keeping cool under danger, periodically reflects on the subordinate role of women in Italy and Germany. By using a woman to unravel a fascist plot, Blake upends the conventions of the crime novel.

David Peace

When I was 10, I used to wear a deerstalker and a dressing gown and carry a magnifying glass and a pipe. Puberty and a few good hidings took me out of this phase and, ever since, I've had no desire to visit Marlowe's LA or Morse's Oxford. Instead, I prefer the standalone voices of certain standalone novels: In a Grove by Ryunosuke Akutagawa; The Glass Key by Dashiell Hammett; Jack's Return Home by Ted Lewis; Equal Danger by Leonardo Sciascia; The Prone Gunman by Jean-Patrick Manchette; White Chappell, Scarlet Tracings by Iain Sinclair; Libra by Don DeLillo; Alma Cogan by Gordon Burn; White Jazz by James Ellroy; Resurrection Man by Eoin McNamee. The one exception I would make as regards the Industry of the Returning Detective is the Factory series – He Died with His Eyes Open, The Devil's Home on Leave, How the Dead Live, I Was Dora Suarez and Dead Man Upright – by Derek Raymond. Each of the four books is narrated by an anonymous sergeant at the Metropolitan police's department of unexplained deaths. In his memoir, The Hidden Files, Raymond described the books as "black novels". He defined the black novel as one that "seeks to present as forcibly as it can the terminal psychic situation that occurs in people who have arrived at a point where they have no hope, no motive, and no longer even the desire to conceal anything from themselves; the black novel intervenes at the moment where a human being approaches his last moment." The Factory series was published between 1984 and 1993, and there remains no finer writing – crime or otherwise – about the state of Britain. Tragically, it is still the state we're in.

Ian Rankin

It's not very fashionable, but the first crime writer I paid any attention to was probably Ernest Tidyman. He wrote about a black private eye called John Shaft. I was 11 or 12, and had bought Isaac Hayes's "Theme from Shaft" as a 45rpm record. I wasn't old enough to gain entry to X-certificate films, so instead sought out the books related to those films – including Shaft. I liked the hard-nosed but soft-centred John Shaft. I knew nothing about the world he inhabited, but there were plenty of vicarious thrills (as well as sex scenes – crucial to an adolescent reader), and I went on to buy other Shaft novels (Shaft's Big Score, Shaft In Africa . . .) and eventually even the soundtrack album. I was surprised to see a photo of Tidyman on the sleeve – he was white, for a start. I'm not absolutely sure, but there's the possibility I gave my character John Rebus that particular first name in memory of the first fictional detective I spent any time with. Shaft – John Shaft.

Laura Wilson

Gerald Kersh (1911-68) is part of the pantheon of almost-forgotten writers of British noir. Specialising in low-life morality tales and conjuring, with Hogarthian relish, a socially realistic world, his best work is more complete and less cloyingly sentimental than the vast majority of his better-known American counterparts. Harry Fabian, pimp and central character of Night and the City (1938), is a nasty piece of work, brilliantly drawn, who stays in the mind long after the book is finished. A denizen of Soho, runtish but rapacious, he is small-time flash with a head full of Hollywood and fingers itching for easy money, a would-be gangster first seen in the barbershop, admiring himself in the mirror and telling lies in an unconvincing American accent. That he is all surface, fooling nobody as entirely as he fools himself, is reflected in his wardrobe: "He dressed far too well. There was a quality of savagery about his clothes – hatred in the relentless grip of his collar, malice in the vicious little knot of his tie, defiant acquisitiveness in the skin-tight fit of his coat – his whole body snarled with vindictive triumph over the memory of many dead years of shabbiness."

An "eavesdropper by vocation", he spies on his girl Zoe, a prostitute, and her punters through a hole in the wall, hoping to learn something to his advantage. An attempt at blackmail fails, as does a foray into boxing promotion, where he finds himself hopelessly outclassed by genuinely effective wheeler-dealers. Zoe, despite his treatment of her, is devoted to him; he is, if not admirable, then oddly likeable – until the point at which he betrays her trust, and ours, by attempting to sell her to a white slaver. It all ends badly for him, of course. How could it not? His parting shot, "in a voice which seemed to contain all the bitterness in the world", is "And some fools say there's a God!"


eddie
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Re: Crime fiction/True Crime

Post  eddie on Sun Jul 31, 2011 8:46 pm

When writers are confronted by a national trauma…Nordic crime writers have long occupied a critical role in the national debate on extremism. How will they respond to the Utøya massacre?

Brian Oliver The Observer, Sunday 31 July 2011


Flowers and candles at a temporary memorial near Utøya. Photograph: Fabrizio Bensch/Reuters

On 5 October, 1999, a courtroom in Oslo heard a defendant, a man who was proud to show his swastika tattoos and to describe himself as a racist, speak of "the great betrayal" of Norway.

"Since 1945," he said, "National Socialism's enemies have been masters of the land; they have developed and put into practice their democratic and economic principles. Those who are supposed to protect our interests have let us down. They let the enemy build mosques in our midst, let them rob our folk and mingle blood with our women. It is no more than our duty as Norwegians to protect our race and to eliminate those who fail us.

"Europe is threatened by mass immigration and the resultant chaos, deprivation and struggle for survival… Those of you who pretend that there is not a racial struggle going on here are either blind or traitors."

The defendant, who had attacked a Vietnamese kebab shop owner with a baseball bat, was not a young Anders Behring Breivik, nor one of his associates. He was not a real person. His name was Sverre Olsen, a shaven-headed character in one of Jo Nesbø's acclaimed thrillers featuring the troubled Harry Hole, Oslo's famous alcoholic detective.

Nesbø is not alone in writing of political extremism and deep social problems in Norway, just as many Swedish, Danish and Icelandic authors do in their own homelands. A fear of outsiders is voiced by characters, be they criminals, police, politicians or ordinary citizens, in the works of many writers who have been translated into English (provided, usually, that they have sold well in German first). British readers, as well as many others in Europe and, slowly but surely, the United States, are turning to Scandinavia for its crime writing and drama.

The work is full of social commentary, many of the writers are former or working journalists, and there is a clear sense of difference from the mainstream: more introspective, more gloomy, and with far more depth than most American and British crime writing. In the words of Håkan Nesser, one of Sweden's top writers: "In general, the pace is slower. It's a European rhythm. There isn't as much action as you need to have in a US crime novel."

Among the most popular Norwegian crime writers whose books – or some of them – are available in English are: Anne Holt, the country's former justice minister, who writes about a former FBI profiler in one series, and a hard-headed female investigator who has to work from a wheelchair in another; Gunnar Staalesen, whose Varg Veum series is set in picturesque Stavanger; KO Dahl, whose thrillers are set in Oslo and contain much comment on modern Norwegian life; and the best by some distance, in my view, Karin Fossum.

Having worked as a nurse and in drug rehabilitation, and having "experienced a murder among my friends, at close range", in her youth, Fossum is noted for her empathy with the perpetrators as well as the victims in many of her books. She writes, she says, about death, whereas most crime writers focus instead on killing – "and that's something else". Of the central figure in her best-selling Konrad Sejer series she says: "He is not very important to me, not intended to be a major character. He's in the book because he has a job to do."

Strangely, and, to some, sadly, you will hear more of these Norwegian writers, and doubtless others too, in the coming months. When neighbouring Sweden was traumatised by infamous crimes, it led, directly or indirectly, to a surge in crime writing that made many authors, the better ones, globally popular.

Henning Mankell began his Wallander series in 1991, five years after prime minister Olof Palme's death and the year when a notorious Swedish criminal, John Ausonius, shot 11 immigrants, killing one of them. Ausonius, now serving a life sentence, used a laser-sighted rifle and became known as the Laser Man, the title of a book about his crimes by journalist Gellert Tamas, who described him as "a mirror of Swedish society".

Crime writing is so popular in Scandinavia because "it's modern, it depicts society in a way that is easy to recognise and doesn't shy away from serious problems," according to critic Marie Peterson.

If Palme's death and Ausonius's extremist hate crimes led to a welter of new work over the border, Breivik will likely do the same in Norway. If this seems unusual, especially to Americans, it is perhaps because of the esteem in which writers are held in Norway.

It is explained in a biography of Jan Kjærstad, arguably Norway's most influential living writer, in the Dictionary of Literary Biography, 20th Century Norwegian. "In much of Europe, unlike North America, there is a societal expectation that authors, as representatives of the intelligentsia, take a prominent public role in debating political and social issues," says Kjærstad's biographer Tara Chace. Kjærstad has suggested "that an author's fiction is the most appropriate medium for influencing public thought".

Norway's greatest ever writer was Knut Hamsun, about whom there is never-ending debate, particularly over his political views. Hamsun won the Nobel prize in 1920 and, in 1943, gave it to Joseph Goebbels as a gift. There was much consternation two years ago over the extent to which the 150th anniversary of his birth should be celebrated nationally. More recently there was Jens Bjørneboe, a controversial critic of Norwegian society who drank heavily and hanged himself in 1976.

The Norwegian critics and public seem to be as wary of Kjærstad as they were of Bjørneboe. He is an intellectual heavyweight, a postmodernist with a degree in theology. He is well travelled, lived in Africa (like Mankell) and has written about Norwegian heroes, Norway's place in the world, and what it means to be a Norwegian. It seems many readers in his homeland do not agree with him, but he is very popular elsewhere in Scandinavia, and in Germany. His weighty trilogy about TV presenter Jonas Wergeland – The Seducer, The Conqueror and The Discoverer – are highly recommended.

Kjaerstad was a keen musician and sportsman before he became serious about his writing. Just like Jo Nesbo, who still plays in one of Norway's most popular bands, Di Derre, and played football professionally. Nesbo recently wrote his first children's book, Doctor Proctor's Fart Powder.

Nesbø is likely to be ever more popular, even though he is something of a contradiction. The main plotline of The Redbreast concerns Nazi sympathisers, stretching back to those who fought for the Germans in the war, despite Norway's supposed neutrality. Other books in the Hole series – five million copies sold in 30 languages, and another one due out in Britain in September – feature severed heads, serial killers, torture, corrupt policemen, rapists, assassins, drug addicts and religious perverts, not to mention the mundanities of alcoholism, failed relationships, and Norway's many social ills. If it all sounds a bit racy, it is, certainly in comparison to most other Scandinavian writers.

Last week he was asked by the New York Times to write about the Breivik massacre. Norway, he said, was a country where "fear of others had not found a foothold… where everyone's material needs were provided for when oil was discovered in the 70s, and where the political path was established right after the second world war. The Norwegian self-image before 22 July 2011 was that of a virgin – nature untouched by human hands, a nation unsullied by the ills of society."

Another contradiction, given there are so many ills of society for Harry Hole to deal with in fictional Oslo.

eddie
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Re: Crime fiction/True Crime

Post  eddie on Sun Aug 07, 2011 12:03 am

Rereading: Truman Capote's In Cold Blood

Truman Capote's forensic account of real-life murder in Kansas remains as unsettling as ever. It almost killed the author and he never wrote anything to compete thereafter

Rupert Thomson guardian.co.uk, Friday 5 August 2011 10.00 BST


Robert Blake, Scott Wilson and Truman Capote during the filming of In Cold Blood. Photograph: Steve Schapiro/Corbis Outline

Following the fanfare that accompanied the publication of In Cold Blood in 1965, Truman Capote, ever the consummate self-publicist, claimed to have written a book that was truly different and original – even, perhaps, the first of its kind. For many critics, the "non-fiction novel", as Capote was calling it, belonged to a tradition dating back to Daniel Defoe's The Storm (1704), in which Defoe used the voices of real people to tell his story, a tradition that boasted many exponents, among them Mark Twain, Dickens, Steinbeck, James Agee and Lillian Ross. But Capote was adamant that his own blend of "immaculately factual" reportage and fictional techniques represented the discovery of a new form; it tallied with Capote's "quest to be self-generated", as Harold Bloom puts it, not related to Faulkner, Eudora Welty or Carson McCullers, not influenced by any other writer, but a talent in his own right, unique in the world of American letters.

Capote had exploded on to the literary scene with short fictions that exhibited a retrospective point of view. He was, first and foremost, an exquisite stylist – "the most perfect writer of my generation", as Mailer called him. Other Voices, Other Rooms (1948) and The Grass Harp (1951) were carefully wrought examples of swamp gothic – unashamedly ornate, lush and impressionistic, and for all its metropolitan sass, Breakfast at Tiffany's (1958), Capote's third novel, in which he gave us the kooky, amoral Holly Golightly, also had its roots in the deep south. Yet, even early on, and despite phenomenal success, Capote seemed conscious of the need to push his writing in new directions. He wanted, as he said, "to do something else", and In Cold Blood gave him the opportunity, allowing him to ditch his attachment to childhood and nostalgia, the literature of the backward glance, and to immerse himself in something that was both current and universal. At the same time, he largely dispensed with his breathless, gossamer sentences, which often teetered on the brink of preciousness and whimsy, and ushered in a style that was much leaner and more sinewy: "Dick! Smooth. Smart . . . Christ, it was incredible how he could 'con a guy'." This was a new Capote – surprisingly tough, almost hard-boiled.

He had cut his non-fiction teeth on two extended pieces, both written in the mid-1950s. "The Muses Are Heard", published in the New Yorker in 1956, chronicled a trip to the Soviet Union by the Everyman Opera, which was touring with Gershwin's Porgy and Bess, and showcased razor-sharp observation and a tone of voice that ranged from the playful to the acidic. In "The Duke in His Domain", published the following year, and still considered a milestone in the history of celebrity profiles, Capote interviewed Marlon Brando on location in Kyoto. Here, too, Capote displayed uncanny journalistic skills, capturing even the most languid and enigmatic of subjects – Brando in his pomp – and eliciting the kinds of confidences that left the actor reflecting ruefully on his "unutterable foolishness". Capote saw journalism as a horizontal form, skimming over the surface of things, topical but ultimately throwaway, while fiction could move horizontally and vertically at the same time, the narrative momentum constantly enhanced and enriched by an incisive, in-depth plumbing of context and character. In treating a real-life situation as a novelist might, Capote aimed to combine the best of both literary worlds to devastating effect.

He found his subject quite by chance, buried deep in the New York Times. A family of four – the Clutters – had been shot to death in an isolated Midwestern farmhouse in the early hours of 15 November 1959. Though the crime in itself did not interest Capote especially ("the subject matter", he said, "was purely incidental") he instinctively understood that the killings had a mythical or universal quality, and that "murder was a theme not likely to darken and yellow with time". William Shawn, his editor at the New Yorker, agreed to back the project in return for first-publication rights, and Capote and his friend Harper Lee left for Holcomb, Kansas, three days later, arriving in time for the funeral.

The village of Holcomb is located in the exact middle of the United States, as far from the sophisticated east and west coasts as it is possible to be. Capote's jackdaw eye gathered precise, jewelled, almost hyper-real detail – from the easterly wind stirring the elm trees on the track leading to the Clutters' farmhouse to the corpses lying in the Phillips' Funeral Home in Garden City, their heads encased in sparkling white cotton, and swollen to twice the size of blown-up balloons – while his ear rapidly tuned in to local speech patterns, alive to every nuance, every rhythm. But there was another crucial factor. Like the yellow Santa Fe express that regularly thundered past Holcomb, "drama had never stopped there", as Capote put it.

Within days of the murders, both Nancy Clutter's boyfriend, Bobby, and Alfred Stoecklein, the Clutters' hired man, had been cleared as suspects, but as Capote blithely told Alvin Dewey, the supervising investigator, "It really doesn't make any difference to me if the case is ever solved or not." His intention was to produce a tightly controlled forensic piece that examined the effects of a savage, senseless killing on an obscure community, and what interested him at the outset was the climate of wariness and suspicion, the insomnia, the loss of faith, the dread. In the words of Nancy's best friend, Susan Kidwell, he was watching the locals discover that "life isn't one long basketball game". All the same, it seems naive to suppose that one could carry out such an examination without considering people's desire for justice and retribution, and only a few weeks after Capote's arrival in Kansas, the arrest of two small-time crooks, Dick Hickock and Perry Smith, and their subsequent confessions, radically altered both the angle and the scale of his undertaking.

As late as 1962, Capote was still sticking to his original script – in public, at least. "My book isn't a crime story," he told Newsweek. "It's the story of a town." By then, however, he knew the two murderers were central to the story he wanted to tell, that they would give it texture, urgency and shape. He was writing the book in brief, self-contained sections, and as he began to fit them together he found himself exploiting classic crime-genre techniques in order to create resonance and heighten suspense. This is particularly apparent early on, in the tense, cinematic inter-cutting between the killers and their victims: as Herb, the rural patriarch, consumes his usual breakfast of an apple and a glass of milk, "unaware that it would be his last", and his daughter Nancy lays out her velveteen dress for church, "the dress in which she was to be buried", the two ex-cons are racing across the wheat plains of the Midwest in their black Chevrolet sedan, Hickock high on Orange Blossoms, Smith crunching handfuls of aspirin for his grotesquely injured legs. Fortunately for Capote, the murderers were not locals, as had originally been supposed. On the contrary, Smith and Hickock symbolised the feckless, degenerate underbelly of the country, the absolute antithesis of Holcomb's God-fearing and law-abiding citizens. Capote's brilliantly atmospheric, sordidly glittery account of the "long ride", as the wanted men drifted from Kansas City to Acapulco to Miami in the weeks leading up to their arrest, supplied the perfect foil to his spare, tight-lipped depiction of a community in shock. The murders represented a sudden, horrifying collision of two wildly divergent Americas. If, as he claimed, Capote had his heart set on making a "big work", then this was more than he could ever have hoped for.

While the first-person viewpoint had suited the frothy, waspish "The Muses Are Heard", Capote was aware that it would capsize a longer, more complex narrative. He knew he had to "get the damn writer out of the way". This was one of the book's great challenges, and he employed any number of literary devices to achieve his objective. For all his technical accomplishment, however, Capote's campaign to remove himself from the text was only partly successful. In his deft manipulation of the facts and impressions that he had gathered, Capote's hand is there for all to see. But there is another deeper and more troubling level on which he achieves a kind of visibility – namely, in his covert yet increasingly palpable identification with the criminals themselves, in particular with Smith.

Initially, the murderers appear as physical and psychological anomalies – Capote juxtaposes Smith's stocky weightlifter's torso with feet that "would have neatly fitted into a delicate lady's dancing slippers", while Hickock's face was "composed of mismatching parts . . . as though his head had been halved like an apple, then put together a fraction off center'" – but if they were monstrous they were also, necessarily, human. Committed to the vertical approach, Capote was at pains to present each of the men in three dimensions, and in researching Smith's backstory he discovered disturbing echoes of his own past life: they both had promiscuous, alcoholic mothers and incompetent, largely absent fathers; they were both brought up in foster-homes; they were both ridiculed as children – Capote for his effeminacy, Smith for his Cherokee blood and his bedwetting. Capote clearly identified with this "chunky, misshapen child-man". As Gerald Clarke, Capote's biographer, puts it: "In Perry he recognised his shadow, his dark side, the embodiment of his own accumulated angers and hurts." Though he prized coolness and objectivity, Capote found it impossible not to reveal where his sympathies lay. When he claimed that Smith could have stepped right out of one of his stories, it was because Smith resembled Capote's imaginative projection of himself: they were both outsiders, freaks.

The difficulty with non-fiction often lies in the resolution. Life, being messy and open-ended, tends to withhold solace. Once Smith and Hickock had been executed, Dewey expected to experience release, the sense of "a design justly completed", but he felt nothing of the kind. This was Capote's problem too: the completion of the design was something the book itself had to accomplish. Though he had prided himself throughout on his accuracy, he decided to break his own rules by providing a fictionalised ending – Dewey's coincidental springtime encounter with Susan in the Garden City graveyard four years after the murders. Life goes on, Capote seems to be saying. Cries become whispers. Criticised for sentimentality, his only defence was to argue that the idea of ending with the executions had struck him as too brutal. "I felt I had to return to the town, to bring everything back full circle, to end with peace."

In Cold Blood brought Capote fame and riches and even though, much to his chagrin, the book did not land him the Pulitzer prize, it guaranteed his place in the American literary canon. Yet, arguably, he never again wrote anything of substance, and his death in 1984, at the age of 59, was accompanied by a feeling of shortfall. The perfect writer, in Mailer's phrase, had failed to realise his potential.

That In Cold Blood has literary merit is not in doubt – 45 years on, it remains as vivid and unsettling as ever – but what makes it unforgettable, perhaps, is the portrait it paints of the eerie, unspoken contract that exists between the observer and the observed, and the trade-off that can occur when the two become too intimate, a Faustian pact in which they both ultimately stand to lose as much as they have gained. "No one will ever know what In Cold Blood took out of me," Capote once said. "It scraped me right down to the marrow of my bones. It nearly killed me. I think, in a way, it did kill me."

In Cold Blood is reissued this month by the Folio Society.

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2011

eddie
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Re: Crime fiction/True Crime

Post  eddie on Mon Oct 24, 2011 8:18 pm

A Bit of the Old Ultraviolence

The Leopard, by Jo Nesbo



With the untimely death of Stieg Larsson (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) it appears that Henning Mankell (the Inspector Wallander series) and Jo Nesbo (the Harry Hole series) are inheritors of the mantle of best-selling Scandinavian thriller writer.

Nordic thriller fiction's characters occupy the same geographical and emotional landscape; snow-bound, lugubrious, self-obsessed and self-destructive. The genre reminds me of a first date I once had with a lovely girl. To impress her, I took her to an arty film, Bergman's Cries and Whispers, in which a female character sexually mutilates herself at the dinner table with a shard of broken wineglass, then licks her own blood. The date was not a success, and I have ever since been wary of Scandinavian story-telling.

Ever since droog Alex in A Clockwork Orange extolled the virtues of “a bit of the old ultraviolence”, writers have been pushing the brutality envelope. Nesbo's eighth novel, but only the sixth to be translated into English, begins with a couple of (literally) gagging blood sequences in which a couple of lovely young women drown in their own blood, having had the insides of their mouths punctured multiple times by – you've guessed it – a serial killer. Nesbo's descriptions of these girls' agonies are as forensic as they are repellent, and I can't help but think that any writer who writes about this kind of thing gets a Nabokovian thrill out of it. I don't. I am so tired of the serial killer genre, which I am sure will outlast vampires and other denizens of blood-soaked underworlds. The problem is that fictional serial killers are always smart, wealthy or well-connected, whereas in real life (as Bill James acidly describes in his recent and wonderful Popular Crime) they are usually shambling, chain-smoking, drug-addicted semi-morons from abusive families, hyper-sexed, with exceptionally poor impulse control.

The case explodes when the third victim is a prominent parliamentarian. Disgraced Norwegian detective Harry Hole – loner, alcoholic, gambling, opium and sex addict – (not even Philip Marlowe labored under such a burden) is hiding out in Kowloon. Haunted by more demons than a Scream movie, he is persuaded to come back to Oslo only because of the dim hopes that he may redeem himself and connect with his dying father (just imagine Bergman's script for this). It turns out the three victims once spent a night in an isolated mountain cabin, hence the necessity for their grisly demise. In real life, a serial killer's victims may possibly be chosen for their general appearance and habits, but this kind of specific temporal connectivity is specific to fiction.

As he explores the case, and the dark underbelly of Oslo, Harry encounters the same obstacles Dirty Harry faced so long ago: bureaucratic incompetence, jealous colleagues, his hovering demons, etc. All the usual paraphernalia of novels of this genre.

Nesbo has a talent for description, his dialogue is so-so, his hero desires to “become a better person”, which is a little more New-Agey than Marlowe as “a man who walks the mean streets but is not himself mean.” The plot is murky and over-complicated, the book is way too long, but there is a nice twist at the end. How many of these problems are due to the fact that it is a translation I do not know as I do not know Norwegian.

Fed up with this genre, I occasionally find myself longing for a serial killer critic who would kill all serial killer plots and techniques in a serial fashion, if not their authors, but that might be serially too much.

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Re: Crime fiction/True Crime

Post  eddie on Thu Nov 03, 2011 1:09 pm

Digested read: Death Comes to Pemberley by PD James

Faber & Faber, £18.99

John Crace
guardian.co.uk, Monday 31 October 2011 21.30 GMT


Death Comes to Pemberley digested.

It is a truth not universally acknowledged that a classic novel is not in want of a sequel. And so it was that on the morning of 14 October 1803, some six years after the joyous occasion of their wedding, that Mrs Elizabeth Darcy sat down with her husband to discuss the arrangements for the forthcoming Pemberley Ball.


Death Comes to Pemberley
by PD James

"First, my love," said Mr Darcy, who had become increasingly uxorious over time, "it behoves us to run through the back story for those who are not up to speed with the original. How glad I am that I overcame my Pride and Prejudice to make you my bride and how happy I am we have two healthy sons, both like me, called Fitzwilliam!"

Elizabeth, who seemed to have lost the sardonic edge that had made her one of the most memorable heroines in literature since becoming mistress to one of the largest estates in Derbyshire, smiled sweetly. "Indeed," she replied, "perhaps we both had too much Pride and Prejudice, and needed to acquire some Sense and Sensibility. If only my headstrong sister Lydia had not eloped with Mr Wickham, all would be well."

At the mention of Mr Wickham's name, silence befell the room. How close Elizabeth had come to being seduced by the bounder, and even though he had acquitted himself well in the war against the Irish, he could not be allowed near Pemberley for fear of bringing shame on one one of the country's finest houses.

Having exhausted herself by giving the servants their instructions for the ball, Elizabeth allowed her mind to ponder the vexed question of her husband's sister Georgiana, who was being wooed both by Colonel Fitzwilliam and Mr Alveston. There was no doubt the colonel was the more suitable spouse, being both Mr Darcy's cousin and a viscount, while Mr Alveston was the heir to a meagre barony, but Mr Alveston was the more easy on the eye and six years ago she might have connived to ensure his preferment. Yet now she was married, she deferred to her husband's judgment and could only pray he placed happiness before prosperity.

Her musings were interrupted by a banging on the front door. "Help me, Lizzie," cried her sister Lydia. "My husband, Mr Wickham, and Captain Denny alighted from the post chaise and ran into Pemberley woods. Shots were fired and I fear one of them may be dead."

"Leave this to me, Lizzie," said Mr Darcy. "I fear great dishonour has been brought on to the Pemberley estate by a murder, and yet I must ensure my upper lip remains stiff as behoves a man of my class. Just forgive me, if I remain more silent than usual."

"I quite understand, my darling husband," Elizabeth replied. "For though I know it will disappoint the many readers who enjoyed the banter of our courtship, it seems we now find ourselves in a Georgian police procedural where we are obliged to have little to do with one another from now on."

With that, Elizabeth retired to pray that her husband would be noble and manly enough to cope with whatever horrors might be revealed, while he and Colonel Fitzwilliam rode out to the woods. What a scene awaited them! There, near the house where Mr Darcy's great-grandfather had shot himself and his dog, Captain Denny lay dead, with a bloodstained Mr Wickham by his side, crying out that it was all his fault.

"Much as I have come to distrust Mr Wickham over the years," said Mr Darcy, "I cannot bring myself to believe he is a man capable of such a brutal murder."

"And we all know that a man of your nobility's judgment is bound to be right in these matters," said Colonel Fitzwilliam. "Yet I fear we must endure many pages of expository narration in which minor characters in whom the reader has little interest reveal details of the crime until the jury inevitably reaches the wrong conclusion."

"We find Mr Wickham guilty," said the jury.

"Not so fast," said a Deus Ex Machina. "I have a confession from a man who was dying in the woods, who has since conveniently died, that he killed Captain Denny thinking he was Mr Wickham, who had seduced his sister and made her with child."

"That is a great relief," said Colonel Fitzwilliam, "though I fear the dishonour done to Pemberley by this foul deed now prevents me from marrying Georgiana."

"So I didn't need to resort to Persuasion, after all," said Elizabeth. "Your sister can now marry Mr Alveston."

"Indeed she can," replied Mr Darcy, "for in these times it behoves a brother to allow his sister to marry for love. Even to a man who has only a barony."

"Would that all men were as enlightened as you, my husband. And now I have some news of my own. I, too, am with child."

"My heart sobs with joy. Though I wonder how it can be so, as we've spent no time alone together since the start of the book."

"More's the pity," said the reader.

Digested read, digested: The kiss of death comes to Pemberley.

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Re: Crime fiction/True Crime

Post  eddie on Sun Nov 06, 2011 3:24 am

A life in writing: PD James

'I thought it would be enjoyable to revisit the characters in Pride and Prejudice and to create a really original, exciting, credible detective story at the same time'

Sarah Crown
guardian.co.uk, Friday 4 November 2011 22.55 GMT


James: 'I wanted to combine my two enthusiasms – writing detective fiction and reading Jane Austen.' Photograph: Linda Nylind/The Guardian

On entering her 10th decade last year, PD James – legend of crime writing and creator of Adam Dalgliesh, one of Britain's best-loved fictional sleuths – decided that the time had come to have some fun. Disinclined, at 90, to begin another Dalgliesh novel, on the grounds that to die leaving a manuscript unfinished would be "intolerable", she chose instead to pursue a long-cherished, if surprising, ambition.

"I had it at the back of my mind for quite a time," she says. "And after I finished The Private Patient [her final Dalgliesh novel] I saw I had the opportunity to indulge myself. I wanted to combine my two enthusiasms: writing detective fiction and reading Jane Austen. I thought it would be enjoyable to revisit the characters in Pride and Prejudice and to create a really original, exciting, credible detective story at the same time. It was great fun to write it, it really was."

The result is Death Comes to Pemberley, published this week. True to the original in tone and tempo, but with a nice, messy murder offering a window on to both the inner lives of the familiar characters and the legal and medical systems of the time, the book stands as an estimable sequel to Austen's text. Set six years after the conclusion of Pride and Prejudice, the novel finds Elizabeth and Darcy happily ensconced at Pemberley: tending to the estate and its tenants, delighting in their two young sons, deeply in love. Jane and Bingley live just 30 miles away, Mrs Bennet remains at a conveniently inconvenient distance, and all is highly felicitous – until the night when a carriage careens out of the wind-lashed darkness and disgorges Elizabeth's wayward sister, Lydia, screaming that her husband, the nefarious Wickham, is dead. The result is a murder trial in which the Darcys find themselves inextricably entangled and which threatens their present happiness and future security.

The house that gives its name to the novel stands at its physical and emotional heart. The gifts it bestows on its inhabitants – both owners and servants – and the duties and loyalties it exacts from them exert a directional pull on the course of the book. It is also the archetypal setting for a murder mystery, and no one understands why better than James herself. "The country house was very much the setting of the orthodox Christie crime novel," she says. "It looms large in the imagination as a place of fundamental goodness and propriety, order and peace; to have the incredible eruption of murder into that comfort, blowing it apart, is shocking. It is that contrast which makes the country house so important to crime fiction. And Pemberley is the ideal country house in every sense."

James's sensitivity to the changing role of the country house over the course of a writing career that has spanned nearly half a century goes some way to explaining why her novels amount to so much more than detective fiction by numbers. The career of her poet-policeman, Dalgliesh, begins and ends with a country house murder. In his first outing, 1962's Cover Her Face, he is dispatched to Martingale manor house in Essex to investigate the violent death of a young woman; in The Private Patient, published in 2008, he lights out for Cheverell Manor in Dorset to apply his brand of thoughtful, practical logic to a similar crime. Read the books side by side and the reverberations ring out: both victims are female; both have been throttled in their beds; both are discovered the following morning by other members of the household, triggering mirroring scenes of shock and distress. But nearly 50 years have elapsed between the two novels, and beneath the superficial similarities, the world has changed.

In Cover Her Face, the victim is an unmarried mother, charitably employed by the mistress of the manor (the house is still in family hands) as a parlourmaid, on the commendation of the warden of a refuge for "delinquent" girls. The day before her murder, after the annual church fete, her relationship with the favoured elder son is disclosed, to general outrage. Dalgliesh arrives to find a community in tumult, the horror of the murder tapping into a wider mid-20th century unease about social class.

Fast-forward 46 years, and the situation Dalgliesh is confronted with looks identical, but differs in every underlying detail. The manor house in The Private Patient has been sold by its ancestral owners to cover their debts and bought by self-made plastic surgeon George Chandler-Powell. He runs a private clinic out of one wing to finance his occupation of the building, maintaining the appearance of a well-appointed country house for the satisfaction of the patient-guests, one of whom, Rhoda Gradwyn, a successful investigative journalist, is the murder victim. The plot is still driven by status anxiety, but of a modern, more meritocratic kind: characters are exercised by their place in the world, certainly, but view that place in terms of career, not class. Motives – from the victim's and the surgeon's to that of the murderer – are fiercely individualistic, frequently financial, and fully 21st-century. Although James says she "didn't set out to provide a chronicle" of the attitudes of her time, by writing her way through the late 20th century over the course of 16 crime novels, that's precisely what she has produced.

"A detective story can give a much truer picture of the society in which it's written than a more prestigious literature," James suggests. "If we want to know what it was like – actually like – to work in an office between the wars, we should go to Murder Must Advertise. It's all there: the people and personalities; the inter-departmental rivalry; the great excitement of having a flutter on the Grand National; right down to how much things cost and attitudes to sex and class. I wanted my books to do the same; to be unambiguously set in the present day, so that they give a picture of the life we're living. And if I'm lucky enough to be read in 50 years' time, I hope people will be able to point to them and say: that's what it was like."

Phyllis Dorothy James was born in Oxford in 1920 – a year that's doubly celebrated by crime aficionados, since it also heralded the dawning of the Golden Age of detective fiction, that interwar flowering of intricately plotted mysteries, in which the preternaturally shrewd detective is invited to pick his way through a liberal scattering of clues and red herrings, before confronting reader and murderer with his irrefutable conclusions in the final pages.

The eldest of three siblings whose father worked for the Inland Revenue, James left school at 16 to work in a tax office herself, and in 1941 married Ernest White, of the Royal Army Medical Corps. He was completing his training at the Westminster Hospital, so at 21, James followed him there, took a job distributing ration books and found herself in London at the height of the blitz. She says she can't remember being frightened until the arrival of the doodlebugs in 1944: "Very scary: they flew low and were extremely loud, until suddenly the noise would stop, and you'd hear a huge explosion and think, thank God it wasn't me." During this time she gave birth to her second daughter, Jane, in hospital (her first, Claire, was born in 1942). "In the daytime, we had to put our pillows over the tops of the cots, to protect the baby in case a bomb blew the windows in. At night, our beds were moved into the corridors, away from flying glass, and the babies were taken to the basement. I remember lying there at night, very weepy, thinking if there's a bomb, how do I find my baby? That was the worst part of the war for me."

But the aftermath was to prove tougher than the war itself. James's husband returned with schizophrenia and unable to work (he died at 44), so it was left to James to provide for her young family. She moved in with her parents-in-law, studied hospital administration and, from 1949-68, served as an administrative assistant with the North West Regional Hospital Board in London. The children went to boarding school and were looked after by their grandparents in the holidays, leaving James free to work and, in the evenings, to embark on her first book.

It had always been her ambition – "in fact, my intention" – to write, and the decision to try her hand at detective fiction, following in the footsteps of her heroes Margery Allingham and Dorothy L Sayers, was straightforward. When it came to choosing a detective, however, she turned her face against the tradition for the talented amateur, from Sherlock Holmes to Sayers's Lord Peter Wimsey, and plumped for a professional instead. "From the first I was aiming at credibility. I thought, amateurs don't really have the resources to investigate a murder; I must have a professional. And I couldn't have a woman because there were no women in the detective force then. I simply produced the kind of hero I'd like to read about: courageous but not foolhardy, compassionate but not sentimental."

Cover Her Face (written, as were all her books, under her maiden name) was, she says, "very much of its time: a pregnant girl now would be given a flat of her own and enough income to bring up her baby, not forced into a mother and baby home. But it's difficult not to feel fond of the first book you write. Books are like babies: they bring their own love with them."

James continued with her day job until she retired. Her career in the health service furnished a rich vein of medical and bureaucratic knowledge that runs through her books: one of her best-known novels, Shroud for a Nightingale, is set in a nurses' training house, and explores the intense relationships that develop in closed communitiesIn 1968, however, she sat the civil service open exam and began work in the Home Office. Appropriately enough, she eventually became a senior civil servant in the crime department.

"I was quite proud of getting in," she says. "They didn't normally want people who'd left school at 16, and very few women were successful. But I was number three in the country on the exam, which absolutely amazed me." She beams. "I've still got the letter. And believe it or not, it began 'Dear sir', and they'd crossed out the 'sir' and written 'madam' over the top."

The first of her books to feature a female lead, private detective Cordelia Gray, is called An Unsuitable Job for a Woman, and one wonders to what extent James's own experiences in the workplace inspired it. Tough, smart, working-class Gray is arguably the first modern female detective in crime fiction, paving the way for the likes of Sara Paretsky's VI Warshawski and Thomas Harris's Clarice Starling. There was great excitement around the creation of the character at the time, but James gave her only one further full-length outing, in 1982's The Skull Beneath the Skin, and she has since been criticised for casting her feminist role model aside. But the decision, she says, was forced on her. "The producers of the film Mrs Brown said they'd like to make some Cordelia Gray programmes, and asked if they could develop the character. I was concentrating on Dalgliesh, and also by this point had Kate Miskin [Dalgliesh's sidekick], who's very like Cordelia – a gutsy girl from a deprived background. So I thought I'd let them try it. Then one day I was at the hairdresser's and I read that the actor playing Cordelia was pregnant, but was going to carry on with the part and make her into an unmarried mother. I got on to one of the directors, and he said, we thought she could have an American lover who's deserted her, and she'll continue to do her job while she's pregnant. And I said, Cordelia was not the sort of girl to have an affair resulting in a pregnancy. If she'd had an affair she wouldn't have had a baby; if she did have a baby, she would take the view that the father had a right to know, and the child had the right to a father. I realised my character had gone."

It was at around this time that James made her sole foray into science fiction. The Children of Men (later turned into a film by Alfonso Cuarón) is a dystopia set in 2021 in an England in which infertility is endemic, and the population is steadily declining. "I didn't think of it as science fiction at all, actually. What happened was that I read a review of a science book that dealt with the extraordinary fall in fertility of western man – we're a third as fertile as our grandparents were. And I wondered what sort of world we'd get if infertility was absolutely general and complete, so that a time came when nobody was giving birth. It's a grim book, very grim – there's chaos at the heart of it." The novel was roundly praised by critics (writing in the New York Times, Caryn James called it "a trenchant analysis of politics and power that speaks urgently to this social moment"), but for James it was a one-off rather than a springboard into a different genre. "I don't think," she says, "that we necessarily choose our genre; the genre chooses us."

What, then, does detective fiction say about her? "That I am a woman who likes life to be ordered. In a long life, I have never taken a drug or got drunk, and I say that not as a matter of pride: it's because the idea of being out of control is appalling to me. I think that when one writes detective stories one is imposing order, and a form of imperfect but human justice, on chaos." In fact, as with the later work of her hero Dorothy L Sayers, a great deal of the fascination of James's detective fiction lies in the way chaos flourishes in the midst of the novels' rigid structure – the internal psychological mess that brings about murder. "I think there's been a huge change since the novels of the Golden Age," she suggests. "What was popular then was the puzzle: such qualities as psychological truth or even atmospheric location were secondary to it. For me, characterisation is at the heart of my books. From the start, I felt that what I was doing was examining human beings under the strain of an investigation for murder. And such an investigation tears down all the walls of privacy that we build round ourselves and reveals us for who we are. It's a fascinating way of dealing with people."

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Re: Crime fiction/True Crime

Post  eddie on Wed Nov 23, 2011 3:10 am

This is fantastic news! Marty is going to direct Jo Nesbo's The Snowman:
*******************************************************************************************************
Martin Scorsese set to direct crime thriller The Snowman

Scorsese's return to crime genre will be adaptation of novel by Norwegian writer Jo Nesbø featuring detective Harry Hole

Ben Child
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 22 November 2011 15.56 GMT


Cold calling … Martin Scorsese, shown at the New York premiere of Hugo, has opted to direct an adaptation of Jo Nesbø's The Snowman. Photo: Eric Thayer/Reuters

Martin Scorsese is to return to the crime genre with The Snowman, an adaptation of the seventh book in Norwegian writer Jo Nesbø's series of novels about hardboiled Oslo detective Harry Hole.

Nesbø confirmed to a Swedish newspaper that Scorsese had signed on the dotted line. It's not known whether the film will be the Oscar-winner's follow-up to Hugo, his forthcoming 3D children's fantasy, or whether it will arrive at a later date.

The Snowman sees Nesbø's maverick cop investigating what appears to be Norway's first serial killer, a murderer who always leaves a snowman near the scene of his crime. The author came to prominence in Britain with the publication in 2006 of his Harry Hole novel The Redbreast. The Snowman, published here in 2010, and The Leopard, which followed this year, have cemented his reputation as one of the best of the current wave of Scandinavian writers, alongside Swedish authors such as Henning Mankell and Stieg Larsson, and his fellow Norwegian, Karin Fossum.

Nesbø reportedly had final choice of director for The Snowman and was happy to give his blessing to Scorsese. He will not insist on the film being set in Norway, raising the possibility that Scorsese might transfer the action to the US. Matthew Michael Carnahan, who wrote the upcoming Brad Pitt zombie flick World War Z as well as the script for the film version of State of Play, will work on the screenplay, with Working Title backing the production.

The Snowman will follow David Fincher's forthcoming Hollywood adaptation of Larsson's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, possibly the best known Scandinavian crime novel, into cinemas. The director of Se7en and Zodiac is choosing to retain the original novel's Swedish setting while employing a largely American and British cast alongside some Swedish actors.

Scorsese's Hugo, based on Brian Selznick's Caldecott medal-winning children's novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret, is due to arrive in cinemas on 23 November in the US and 2 December in the UK. It stars Asa Butterfield, Chloë Grace Moretz, Ben Kingsley, Sacha Baron Cohen, Ray Winstone, Emily Mortimer and Jude Law.

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Re: Crime fiction/True Crime

Post  eddie on Wed Nov 23, 2011 3:14 am



The Snowman, by Jo Nesbo

It is November in Oslo, and the first snow is falling. Winter has arrived. During the night a young boy wakes up to find his mother - Birte Becker - gone. There are wet footprints on the stairs. And outside, in the garden, looms a lonely figure looking at the house: a snowman bathed in cold moonlight, its black eyes glaring up at the bedroom windows. And around its neck is his mother's pink scarf.

The Snowman is the seventh novel (in Norwegian, 6th translated into English) in the excellent and widely acclaimed series about Detective Harry Hole from Oslo, written by Norwegian writer Jo Nesbo (picture below). Harry Hole is tall, athletic, lean, has blonde hair, machine-cropped hair. He is very smart but a bit introvert, does things his own way and doesn’t always communicate well, has some series issues with alcohol, and is not very well liked by colleagues in the Oslo police force. He is their best investigator and their worst public servant.

Detective Inspector Harry Hole has received a strange anonymous letter which did not make much sense to him. It was signed by “The Snowman”. Now he starts to look more closely into it. And when Harry and his team delve into unsolved case files, they discover that an alarming number of wives and mothers have gone missing over the years. There is a previously overlooked pattern in the data: Many married women have gone missing on the day when the first snow falls.

But the police cannot find any traces of Birte Becker, the woman who disappeared from her home; the mother of Jonas and married to Filip, an arrogant professor of physics. However, a few days later the head of another woman is found outside Oslo. It has been placed on the top of a snowman.

It is evident that there is a serial killer on the loose. A killer that has been killing for years. Silently, unnoticed. And a killer that now - for some reason - has wanted to reveal himself to Harry Hole. That wants Harry Hole implicated. And who makes Harry feel that he is being played with. That he has become a pawn in a brutal and deadly game. And Harry is being played with - before the game is over, the killer will drive him to the brink of insanity.

The Snowman was awarded with The Norwegian Booksellers’ Prize in 2007 for Best Novel of the Year. It is a strong, brilliant thriller where the action never stops. I enjoyed it tremendously. The Snowman is a thriller that confirms Jo Nesbo’s position as one of the stars in contemporary crime fiction.

(Based on Snømannen, the Norwegian original of the novel - I have not seen the translation.)


Praise for The Snowman:

”Criminally good. (…) The Snowman is a skillfully written Hole novel, a crime story so well made that you simply cannot put it away. Nesbo is the Picasso of Norwegian crime” Stavanger Aftenblad (Norway)

”A masterfully written crime story.” Verdens Gang (Norway)

”Nesbo .. delivers at such a pace that it whizzes at the turns …” Bergensavisen (Norway)

”Perhaps [The Snowman] is even a notch better than its predecessors … Nobody writes better crime fiction in Scandinavia than Jo Nesbo. It is a pleasure, a pure joy, to let oneself get lost in his writing art. The Snowman is the kind of book that you devour in a greedy gulp, and that stays with you long after you’ve put it away.” Fredriksstad Blad (Norway)

”…[Jo Nesbo is] my latest favorite crime author. He is, in fact, the kind of writer I read for his literary qualities.” Dagens Nyheter (Sweden)

”Jo Nesbo has become a favorite among Swedish crime readers. /…/ Nesbo has a singular ability to maintain the vitality of his story, to surprise and craft genuine characters who lead distinct, individual lives. His writing is a pure pleasure to indulge in.” Dagbladet (Sweden)

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Re: Crime fiction/True Crime

Post  eddie on Sun Dec 04, 2011 8:10 pm

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo: feminist, or not?

Stieg Larsson's bestselling thriller The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo divided the critics, now the film has united them – and not in a good way


Sexist titillation? … Peter Andersson and Noomi Rapace in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Photograph: Knut Koivisto

The debate has raged ever since Stieg Larsson's bestselling thriller, the first in a trilogy, was published in Sweden in 2005, a year after the author's death. The film, released in the UK last Friday – described by the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw as "a forensic procedural with explicit violence" – seems to have muddied the waters further.

Originally titled Men Who Hate Women, the book divided critics. Some saw Lisbeth Salander (the tattooed private investigator of the title) as a feminist avenging angel. Others criticised Larsson's graphic descriptions of the abuse and mutilation of women, judging the whole effort "misogynist".

It's all very confusing if you come to the story a bit after the event, which, like many, I have. Not being a thriller fan, I spurned the Dragon Tattoo bandwagon for a long time. When a book is as hyped as this, you have certain preconceptions: I imagined cliches and extreme violence. I was pleasantly surprised, then, to discover it is neither formulaic nor disturbingly graphic. And it was indeed Larsson's take on feminism that made it stand out as an original read.

The book promotes a very Scandinavian sort of equality. The message I took from it was that gender is irrelevant. We behave the way we do because of our individual characters and personal histories. In Larsson's world, it's the psychopaths who split the world along gender lines. And, boy, do they get their comeuppance.

But not everyone agrees. This f-word blog rounds up the initial reviews of the book, concluding that Larsson's rape and murder fantasies are little more than sexist titillation. Melanie Newman concludes that she has "difficulty squaring Larsson's proclaimed distress at misogyny with his explicit descriptions of sexual violence, his breast-obsessed heroine and babe-magnet hero".

Interestingly, in Joan Smith's original, positive review of the book in the Sunday Times she doesn't really take on Larsson's feminism, noting only that as an activist: "Larsson's other great preoccupation [alongside the fascist movement] was violence against women, and the scarcely believable horrors Blomkvist unearths are as rooted in misogyny as they are in fascism."

Others take the feminism as read. In the Times, Christina Konig describes it as combining "a contemporary feminist polemic with a good old-fashioned thriller". Feministing.com sees Lisbeth Salander as "basically a feminist avenger".

So far, the film has been less divisive. It has been universally panned as anti-women. In her review in Harper's Bazaar this month, Mariella Frostrup writes: "A potentially good mystery is lost in scenes – such as a violent rape – that dwell too much on what feels to me like Larsson's misogynistic fantasies." On the Arts Desk blog, Graham Fuller judges the film "scarcely feminist". He writes: "In frankly depicting Lisbeth's rapes and presenting an obscene array of photographs of murdered women in a killer's lair, it comes across as glibly indulgent of those visual horrors."

In the novel Larsson spares us many graphic descriptions, leaving a lot of the worst to our imagination. It seems, then, that the film has betrayed not only some of the book's original subtlety but also its feminism. I waited too long to read the book.


Last edited by eddie on Mon Dec 05, 2011 4:27 am; edited 1 time in total

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Re: Crime fiction/True Crime

Post  eddie on Sun Dec 04, 2011 8:17 pm

The reporter as hero - Stieg Larsson's trilogy is a must-read for journalists

Greenslade Blog
The Guardian

The latest issue of Vanity Fair carries a good piece by Christopher Hitchens on the posthumous success of the Swedish crime writer Stieg Larsson.

The Larsson Millennium trilogy is a must-read for journalists, despite it being - in my humble view - poorly written. There is an awful lot of extraneous material and unnecessary complexity. But the central plot is brilliantly executed. It grips you throughout.

The hero is a journalist. The heroine, Lisbeth Salander, is one of fiction's most extraordinary characters ("feisty, fascinating, fabulous", as Sue Arnold rightly says).

The third book, The girl who kicked the hornet's nest*, was published last month and moved several reviewers to ecstatic praise.

Joan Smith in the Sunday Times concluded that "the completion of the trilogy confirms Larsson as one of the great talents of contemporary crime fiction".

Marcel Berlins in The Times wrote that Larsson's "original, inventive, shocking, disturbing and challenging... trilogy has brought a much needed freshness into the world of crime fiction".

And here's Nick Cohen in The Observer: "I cannot think of another modern writer who so successfully turns his politics away from a preachy manifesto and into a dynamic narrative device."

Larsson died, aged 50 in 2004, before enjoying the renown his work has achieved.

The books are laced with spot-on journalistic references. In the third volume, for example, there is a cracking segment on the harm caused to journalistic quality by the persistent cutting of too many newspaper staff (pp. 270-272).

There are two clear themes throughout, about the nature of being subjected to a media feeding frenzy and about the need to protect confidential sources, whatever the pressure.

Larsson also gives a wonderful lecture on the dangers of single sourcing, illustrated by this quote from an editor to an ingenue reporter after a lengthy dialogue in which she discovers how he came by an exclusive - but false - story:

"I can sum up everything I said in two sentences. Your job description as a journalist is to question and scrutinise most critically. And never to repeat claims uncritically, no matter how highly placed the sources in the bureaucracy. Don't ever forget that. You're a terrific writer, but that talent is completely worthless if you forget your job description."

On a trip I took the other week with a group of journalists, the Larsson trilogy was the subject of much discussion. The general view was that, despite the flaws, the books were a pleasure to read. After all, reporters are rarely portrayed in such a glowing way as Mikael Blomkvist.


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Re: Crime fiction/True Crime

Post  eddie on Sun Dec 04, 2011 8:22 pm

The 10 best Fictional sleuths - in pictures

Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes sequel arrives in cinemas this month. So we hunt down the most brilliant detective minds
Euan Ferguson

The Observer, Sunday 4 December 2011

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Re: Crime fiction/True Crime

Post  eddie on Sun Dec 04, 2011 8:23 pm


Sherlock Holmes
Arthur Conan Doyle
It would be wilful not to make Holmes number one. What we’re after here is sleuthing, not thriller-cop-hero stuff, and the fact that Holmes is just about to feature in his zillionth film (starring Robert Downey Jr, left) shows our rolling-generation fascination with the ability of those who can see what others cannot. Or, when all can see, can bring inferences and deductions that our smaller brains cannot. Sherlock, most brilliantly realised by Benedict Cumberbatch and his writers, has been an intellectual delight. And winningly, humanly, he gets things wrong. Photograph: Alex Bailey/Warner Bros

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Re: Crime fiction/True Crime

Post  eddie on Sun Dec 04, 2011 8:26 pm


The Continental Op
Dashiell Hammett
I’ve gone for this Man With No Name rather than Philip Marlowe and his unbeatable one-liners because, evocative though Raymond Chandler’s antihero is, Marlowe too often shot first and asked questions afterwards. Hammett (pictured) gave us a wise and ego-free sleuthing flatfoot, who follows up and follows up and, rained on and cold and tired, keeps following up tiny matchbook leads until he has done his paid job. True sleuthing in Red Harvest and The Dain Curse and we never knew his name. To make up for this, Hammett gave us Sam Spade. Photograph: SNAP/Rex Features

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Re: Crime fiction/True Crime

Post  eddie on Sun Dec 04, 2011 8:28 pm


Lincoln Rhyme
Jeffery Deaver
The Bone Collector and its successors shocked and fascinated. There have been many fictional forensic scientists, but Deaver, whose latest job is to write the new Bond book, gave us a tetraplegic black expert, who’d been crippled by a girder-fall during a crime-scene investigation. Rhyme has a male nurse, one working finger, a tetraplegic-compatible computer, an encyclopaedic knowledge of the archaeology of Manhattan and a brain which, like Sherlock’s, connects in the oddest and most wonderful way. Dark and joyous. Photograph: Columbia Pictures/Allstar Picture Library

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Re: Crime fiction/True Crime

Post  eddie on Sun Dec 04, 2011 8:31 pm


Endeavour Morse
Colin Dexter
There are too many TV cops, yet Morse endures. He does so because he’s not just using “the procedural” – a point so winningly emphasised in his interplay with superiors – but brains and hunches. In Morse’s case – perhaps fortuitously, what with him living in Oxford – he has what we call the “benefits of a classical knowledge”, coupled with a fine distrust of humanity and of himself. Again, it’s sleuthing, it’s leaps, it’s sudden synaptic jumps that work. It’s his hearing Lewis burbling on about some Lloyd Webber dirge, and drifting into thoughts of opera, and making the connections. Photograph: ITV

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Re: Crime fiction/True Crime

Post  eddie on Sun Dec 04, 2011 8:35 pm


Arkady Renko
Martin Cruz Smith
Renko, who first appeared in Smith’s blockbuster Gorky Park, doesn’t just have to sleuth his way through impenetrable riverside murders in filthy, frozen, rush-strewn marshes: he has to sleuth his way around the dying communist state and its quadruple-bluffing, its omnipotence, its reworking of evidence, its falsity. And it’s all terribly cold and there are everywhere drink and memory problems. Even Sherlock would have given up. Renko persists. A very Russian fable of a good man beset by all. Written by an American. Photograph: Allstar

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Re: Crime fiction/True Crime

Post  eddie on Sun Dec 04, 2011 8:38 pm


Nicky Welt
Harry Kemelman
The finest crime short story I have ever read is The Nine Mile Walk. There are no heroics, simply logic and deduction. Nicky Welt isn’t even a sleuth – he’s a professor of English with a special interest in logic. He and a friend argue over whether a series of deductions can be logical and yet not be true. Welt asks for an utterly random sentence from his friend. “A nine-mile walk is no joke, especially in the rain,” is given and accidentally overheard. A series of logical inferences becomes a concrete suspicion, then a tentative telephone call to the police and arrests. Utterly inspired. Photograph: Public Domain

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Re: Crime fiction/True Crime

Post  eddie on Sun Dec 04, 2011 8:41 pm


Smilla Qaaviqaaq Jaspersen
Peter Hoeg
Smilla’s Sense of Snow was the film version of Hoeg’s book, Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow and no, I don’t know why either. Anyone who has read it knows it goes, frankly, mad at the end. Loopso, actually. But the opening chapters, in which Smilla works out that a young boy’s accidental, snowy roof-fall death was far from an accident – and works it out by just knowing, having been brought up in Greenland, the difference between 17 kinds of ice crystals – and thus sets in store a pocketful of woes, is as sleuthy, as minorly and beautifully detailed as will ever happen. Photograph: Allstar

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