Friday, November 30, 2007

Tonight's Top Ten List...

Well, top 31, actually.  This lot should provide plenty of inspiration for future plots. 

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Across the Great Divide

I commented last weekend about the substantial coverage given by The Guardian and Observer newspapers to various writers of crime fiction.  But the debate about the supposed abyss between genre and 'literary' fiction (last aired here in relation to Clive James's provocative New Yorker piece) still rumbles on.  The current edition of the UK Prospect magazine carries a piece by Tom Chatfield called 'The Genre Divide'  (only available on-line to subscribers, unfortunately, though you can read the start of it here). 

It's a largely balanced, if slightly odd, article which concludes that genre writing 'is one of the great pleasures and enablers of fiction'.  Mind you, the positive tone is perhaps a little undermined by  the accompanying photograph of John 'Benjamin Black' Banville captioned 'Banville: slumming it'.   Not a phrase that occurs, as far as I can see, anywhere in the article itself. 

Interestingly, though, Chatfield's view is that 'genre fiction is difficult to do right' and that the Black novels are 'decent...but unsatisfying...less than thrilling'.  I can't comment, because Christine Falls is still sitting there, reproachfully, on my 'to be read' shelves.  On the other hand, the latest posting on Declan Burke's consistently entertaining Crime Always Pays blog suggests that the caption on that photo might carry a small ring of truth, after all...

Saturday, November 24, 2007


This risks getting rather circular, but Peter Rozovsky has posted an item on his ever-stimulating Detectives Beyond Borders blog discussing Richard Tuschman's piece about the excellent cover he's produced for the US edition of The Shadow Walker, which I mentioned on here a little while ago (hope you're keeping up with this). 

Like Peter,  I found it fascinating to gain an insight into the thought-processes that had led to Richard's final artwork, as well as to see some of the options that were discarded along the way.  It illuminates an aspect of book production which is often neglected by the reader (and probably by the author, too, for that matter). 


Thursday, November 22, 2007

All the Best

The always-interesting 'It's a Crime (or a Mystery)' blog has been preparing for Christmas by asking a number of crime writers to recommend what they'd consider to be 'essential reading'.  Nobody's asked my opinion (probably wisely), but that's never discouraged me from giving it anyway.  Taking a slightly different tack, however, I've been thinking about the books I've enjoyed over the past year. 

Everyone's big discovery this year seems to have been my Quercus stable-mate, Peter Temple.  I was as bowled over by The Broken Shore as everyone else, and I've subsequently enjoyed the wit and lyricism of his Jack Irish and other books.  I should also put in a word for another Quercus-ite, the excellent Phil Rickman, whose Merrily Watkins series just keeps getting better (though I'm saving his new one, The Fabric of Sin, to be the perfect midwinter read). 

Still, enough local plugs. As in most years, I've made new discoveries (in the sense of actually getting round to reading authors that I've been planning to for years) - this year the roster included Shane Maloney, Ken Bruen and Graham Hurley.  I know, I know - what kept me?  Well, I've caught up now. 

And then, inevitably, there were the Scandinavians, who seem to be taking over.  It's not all to my taste (I sympathised with Maxim Jakubowski's phrase 'riffing on the Maigret with angst theme'), but this year I particularly enjoyed Hakan Nesser and Ake Edwardson. 

Closer to home, it's largely been new stuff from the old favourites - Reginald Hill, John Harvey, the sadly now late Michael Dibdin.  And I continue to wend my pleasant way through the quirkier residents of mainland Europe - Vargas, Camilleri.  I'm struggling to think of  an English author who offers a similar level of quirk, which perhaps says something about our national personality (and, today of all days, I'll avoid drawing any footballing parallels...).

Of the newer stuff, well, there were various heavily-hyped volumes which, for one reason or another, didn't do it for me.  But I did enjoy Tana French's In the Woods.  I was afraid at first that it was going to try to be Literature, but then it settled down into something genuinely distinctive and memorable. 

Finally, as in all years, there were occasional serendipitous discoveries.  A couple have stayed with me, quite possibly because I read both sitting by a wood-stove, glass of red wine in hand, in a friend's gloriously remote cottage in the Welsh borders.  The first was John Harwood's The Ghost Writer, an odd literary Chinese-puzzle of a book, which risks being over-clever but ultimately is simply haunting.  The other was Phil Whitaker's The Face, a kind of retrospective police procedural, playing intriguing games with truth and memory.  The latter also lingered in my mind, in part, because - like most of John Harvey's books - it was set in my home city of Nottingham, a place that seems never quite to let go of those who have lived there. 

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Crime on the Rise

I've never been too fussed about whether or not genre fiction is under-rated.  After all, some would consider that not being nominated for the Man Booker prize is perhaps a badge of honour. 

Nevertheless, I'm encouraged to see the level of coverage given to crime fiction this weekend across those two UK sister newspapers, The Guardian and The Observer.  In yesterday's Guardian, we had an interview with James Lee Burke.  And today's Observer excels itself with a lengthy review of Burke's new Dave Robicheaux novel, an extended interview with one Ian Rankin, and a substantial news piece about the prospect of Kenneth Branagh playing C J Sansom's Matthew Shardlake in a forthcoming TV adaptation.  Maybe someone's beginning to notice what's going on out here.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Good Thoughts and Good Deeds?

The Mongolian President, Nambaryn Enkhbayar, sounds an interesting man.  He's quoted in this article as saying that:

"...the very important point that Buddhism makes is that you can find the way to make life better by peaceful means, not swords and arms, but good thoughts and good deeds."

This is also a man who's translated Tolstoy and Dickens into Mongolian and was, he says, inspired to enter politics through reading Tolstoy's Resurrection and Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov.  Possibly not your standard political animal, then.  I imagine any discussions with his US counterpart would have made intriguing listening.

Democracy or Wealth?

H'm...if it really is a dilemma, perhaps Mongolia is right at least to think twice about which way to jump.  On the other hand - call me an old cynic - but I find it difficult to imagine that the mining companies will ultimately walk away from this untapped potential even if that awkward creature democracy does hinder their progress for a while. 

Friday, November 9, 2007

A Sneak Preview

I mentioned a while ago that the US edition of The Shadow Walker would be published by those fine people at Berkeley Books in 2006.  You can get a preview of the excellent cover that's been designed by Richard Tuschman on his very interesting blog.  Richard also gives a fascinating account of the thought-processes that led to the final version, illustrating some of the discarded options and preliminary stages.  Thanks, Richard, for providing such striking and sympathetic artwork!

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Lively Democracy and Bogged Down Deals

The world's media today is announcing the not entirely unexpected resignation of the Mongolian Prime Minister, Miyeegombiin Enkhbold.  I was particularly struck by one sentence in the Reuters report:

Mongolia's lively democracy has caused valuable mining deals to get bogged down in political discussion.

That's one perspective  Another perspective is presented in this very interesting (and, I think, nicely balanced) piece from the Columbia Spectator. 

Sunday, November 4, 2007

An Interesting Ride

Sorry - been a little quiet on here over the past week.  I've been busy with a stack of things, not least working on the draft of the third Nergui book, The Outcast.   I'm fascinated and reassured by John Connolly's latest musings on the writing process.  Fascinated, because it's always interesting to get an insight into how other writers approach their craft.  Reassured because I always worry that I'm the only crime writer who doesn't have every last plot detail carefully outlined on neatly stacked index cards prior to putting fingers to keyboard.  But the truth is that many (most?) crime writers work as I do - starting with an approximate idea of where the book's likely to go, but always ready to be surprised when the plot or characters suddenly spring in an unexpected direction.   And I've invariably found that the unpredicted development is more interesting than anything I might consciously have planned. 

In my head, I've adopted Paul Muldoon's terrific poem, 'Medley for Morin Khur', as an unofficial epigraph for The Outcast.  The poem is quoted in full in James Fenton's review of Muldoon's collection The Horse Latitudes, along with Muldoon's pertinent comment that: "If the poem has no obvious destination, there's a chance that we'll all be setting off on an interesting ride."  Quite so.