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. 


1. Peter said...

I've been trying to figure out what to make of Maxim Jakubowksi's "Maigret with angst" comment about the Scandinavian writers. On the one hand, the Maigret stories and the Swedish writers, especially, share notions of empathy with criminals and other downtrodden sorts. But Maigret's empathy always seems to be of a more remote kind. Also, while I think the Swedish authors tend to feel this empathy and sympathy, I'm not sure Simenon ever did. Some of his early, pre-Maigret stories seem to regard downtrodden characters with fascination and care, but also with disgust.
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

2. Michael Walters said...

I think you're probably right about Simenon, though I wouldn't claim any great expertise. I took Jakubowski to be talking about the mixture of empathy for the criminal with an occasionally over-pervasive Nordic gloom. I have to confess that personally I've never really got on with Henning Mankell's books, for example, though I can see he's a fine writer. Just a little bit too much angst for my taste.

3. Peter said...

I wandered into Murder One one day around the time when I was reading lots of the newer Swedish writers and had just written an article about some of them. Jakubowski was in the store, and I asked him, "Are the Scandinavian writers popular?"

"Oh, no!" he exclaimed, and I like to imagine he wrinkled his nose at the notion. I wonder now if he was letting his own tastes interfere with his judgment of the market. I found out only later that he was no fan of the Scandinavians.
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From>Home"

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