Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Death of the murder

I don't read enough. It's true, and I'm thoroughly ashamed. As someone who claims to be a writer, I am not thoroughly immersed in enough wide-ranging narratives of diverse authorial voices.

Sometimes I think of my relationship with reading and literature as analagous Bart's brief adventures in the fourth grade classroom at Cypress Creek:
Teacher: You don't know your multiplication tables? Long division?
Bart: I know of them.

So, continuing along the gratuitous all-life-is-reduced-to-Simpsons-quotes path, when Jay Sherman tells Patty and Salma that he 'said to Woody Allen, well Camus can do, but Sartre is smartrer!' I can giggle knowingly at the reference, even though I've only ever read Camus' two shortest books and, at most, three or four chapters from Being and Nothingness. (Oh, and No Exit, but that was because we workshopped it in Drama. But plays don't really count. Hell is other people though, JP definitely was onto something there.)

One genre in which I'm relatively well-read, however, is crime fiction, specifically British murder mysteries. I'm positively nannaesque in my love of Christie, Rendell, James etc and their corresponding high-brow Brit TV adaptations. And much as I love the grandes dames of the genre, I'm equally compelled by the new wavers - Ian Rankin, Peter Robinson, Minette Walters, Val McDermid etc - who write for the cynical CSI generation that has no patience for Lady Gwendoline Highbottom being poisoned during the garden party with that suspicious glass of lemonade with the unmistakable fragrance of bitter almonds, served by that swarthy sub-continental type.

There's something oddly comforting about being taken to a depressing, fictional northern, Sussexian or Scottish city in the middle of a grey winter, to join a bitter, alcoholic, middle-aged male detective and his sexually-tensed female partner investigate the grizzly discovery of a charred teenage corpse at the banks of the (insert name of river flowing through fictional northern, Sussexian or Scottish city here).

There's no way around it: The Poms do grizzly and depressing brilliantly, and their crime writers are no exception. The Yanks are too plot-driven and the Aussies don't seem to appreciate the genre enough to nurture a strong, unique narrative - though I will say, in a nauseatingly self-indulgent plug, that my aunt Gabrielle Lord is among the best. Whipping Boy, Bones and Lethal Factor among others are outstanding.

(PS - Note to Oz TV producers: When the hell are you going to do the 'Scobie Malone Mysteries?' Hello, definitive Australian murder investigator by internationally-renowned writer so you can sell it to the overseas markets? Honestly.)

I'm concerned, however, that the days of quality Brit murder mysteries may be numbered. I'm currently reading Rendell's latest Chief Inspector Wexford mystery, Not in the Flesh, and with Dame Ruth nearing 80, I fear this might be the last we see of the good Kingsmarkham CI. Similarly, my all-time favourite, Dame PD James, is nearing 90 and we haven't had a Commander Dalgleish mystery since 2005. Reginald Hill has just 'killed' Andy Dalzeil and I know the next book on my to-read list, Exit Music, will be the last we see of Ian Rankin's Rebus.

So in the future, it would seem my thirst for the genre will be primarily quenched by Peter Robinson's Chief Inspector Banks (and much as I like this man's work, I can't shake the feeling he's too much of a 'lighter' Rebus) and McDermid's impotent Dr Tony Hill and his totally dysfunctional relationship with DCI Carol Jordan. Will that be enough?

I'm sure other authors will emerge in the void left behind by the greats - I'm just not sure if they'll be as compelling. Frankly, I'm starting to wonder if it's just too quaint a genre to sustain in the forensic age. Forensic science has taken all the guessing and ambiguity - and therefore the fun - out of the whodunnit. Nowadays it's essentially the 'howdunnit' genre, which is interesting and all, but to me it's a bit like substituting a Mahler symphony with the Schrodinger equation. Sure, it's complex, thought-provoking and probably has a satisfying resolution to those who can follow it from the start, but there's little music or lyricism involved.

In the meantime, however, I've just bought the Marple (Geraldine McEwan) box set and am enjoying every minute. I know by definition I should have a knitted blanket over my knees, digestive biscuit by my side and keep yelling at my half-dead husband of 53 years to turn up the volume while watching, but I don't care. I need my fix, man.

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At 31/10/07 8:20 pm, Blogger nash said...

Oh you'd be sooo easy to buy birthday presents for

At 31/10/07 8:25 pm, Blogger Sam said...

I've always thought so, nash!

At 1/11/07 4:56 pm, Blogger Dawei said...

I'm all for trashy crime-ish reads. Although I'm a more of a Barbara Vine-er than a Rendell-er.

At 2/11/07 9:55 pm, Blogger JahTeh said...

He's American but Michael Connelly's detective Harry Bosch is not a bad series. He also wrote 'Blood Work' which Clint Eastwood managed to turn from a good read to a crap movie.
Really can't beat the Poms for style though.


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