Sunday, 18 January 2009

Crime Fiction

One more thing from today's Guardian Online - there '1000 Novels You Must Read' series is in crime fiction mode today. A few observations:

1 - It's certainly nice to read a list where you're familiar with a significant proportion of the entries.

2 - I know Conan Doyle mostly did short stories, but The Hound of the Baskervilles is a shocking omission. It's pretty disingenuous to knock Holmes out of the crime lit canon on a technicality.

3 - As is And then there were None. I'm surprised no-one makes a case for Christie.

4 - Glad to see John Sutherland pick Eric Ambler, although the list does demur the boundary between 'crime' and 'thriller'. However, Cause for Alarm is clearly Ambler's best novel (read it, it's the first vaguely grown-up piece of espionage fiction.)

5 - The Rankin selections seem a little arbitrary.

6 - Ditto Chandler, who gets two entries, but no Farewell My Lovely, arguably the most representative Marlowe novel.

7 - A bit unbelievable, this one. No James Ellroy. I know his novels are gruesome and, arguably, repetitive, but they've restyled the grammar of noir in a way that we're only just beginning to see the effects of.

8 - And, talking of those effects, I'm not sure that David Peace's 1974 and 1977 deserve to be on here at the expense of 1980 and 1983. Perhaps 1977 and 1980 would have been the correct combination.

9 - If they're trying to get the avant-detective thing right, surely Gertrude Stein's Blood on the Dining Room Floor (which is magnificently unreadable as only Stein can manage) or George Perec's A Void would be better places to begin than The Name of the Rose or The New York Trilogy.

10 - Good call by Carmen Callil for Geoffrey Household's Rogue Male, but it seems to me that she's only read the first five pages...

11 - The definition of 'crime' is rather stretched. Patrick Hamilton's Hangover Square is only as criminally-minded as, for example, Jean Rhys's Good Morning Midnight or Gerald Kersh's Night and the City. If you're going for angsty novels with an atmosphere of noir-ish gloom, Green's Party Going (with its mysterious 'Hotel Detective') would have to be a candidate. Conversely, Hamilton's Gorse Trilogy is definitely crime fiction.

Right, time for some interview preparation.


taz said...

I very rarely read crime fiction these days - I think it's because there's too much plot, and I find atmosphere and meandering dynasties a bit more relaxing. but when I was at school I went through a phase of absolutely devouring Agatha Christie's work; you have reminded me of how much I *loved* And then there were none - I am partly sure (...) that our copy still bore the title Ten Little Niggers, but I suspect that is a false memory.

Joe said...

Crime fiction is hilariously overplotted now, Taz - have you read Ian Rankin? I quite like elements of the Rebus novels, but they're plotted far beyond what might be justifiable as expedient. Also, IR's relentless literary referencing is pretty annoying.

I genuinely loved And then there were none, but mostly because I liked its demonstration of the outer limits of novelistic mean spiritedness. Christie was in a bad mood when she plotted that, surely.

Oh, and how do you put italics in comments?