Crime Writing Month starts on the 25th May and finishes 5th July 2012 – so it’s more like six weeks – it just wouldn’t have sounded as ‘catchy’ to call it ‘Crime Writing Six Weeks’, I guess. This stems from the past two years with Crime Writing Week, but as crime fiction is such a huge genre (and the biggest selling genre, at that) it was deemed not long enough, hence the extension.
This is my last year as a judge for the CWA John Creasey/New Blood Dagger and it has been very noticeable in the diversity of what now constitutes a crime novel. Despite some taking a shot (pardon the pun) at crime fiction and claiming crime novels not ‘proper fiction’ you have to wonder if they are in fact caught in a time warp. Yes, in the Golden Age of Crime Fiction characters were sacrificed for plot. However, writers like Sayers gave their detectives in-depth lives with a spouse, children and history. And with the passing years other writers have taken that path and as with any form of Evolution, the crime novel has evolved.
This years Creasey entries have included a number of what some would class as ‘literary novels’ that have a serious crime at the heart of it. So, do you call it a literary novel or a crime novel? If it has been entered for an award to honour the best in crime fiction, does this specifically make it a crime novel? The boundaries between crime and ‘general’ fiction are getting more and more blurred over recent years and more writers feel capable of installing a crime element within their novel without being labelled. It is strange that readers have grasped this shift when some within the literary sphere really have yet to wake up and smell the coffee. But then we have the other side of the coin – would readers be happy if Mark Billingham or Val McDermid wrote a book that didn’t have a crime in it? Are only fiction writers allowed to segue in to crime but not the other way around?
At the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival there is a panel entitled, ‘A Donkey in the Grand National’ which refers to a literary critic who made this quote when asked about finding a crime novel on the Booker shortlist. The panel will discuss the issue of ‘literary’ versus ‘crime’. But as I’ve just said the demarcations are getting blurred so that writers like Susan Hill have branched out and has now added the brilliant Simon Serrailler series to her already impressive canon of work. Patricia Duncker who has won many literary awards was shortlisted for the CWA Gold Dagger for her novel, ‘The Strange Case of the Composer and his Judge’ which has been claimed as the literary version of a Dan Brown! ‘Child 44’ was long listed for the Booker and what was ‘The Sisters’ Brothers’, shortlisted for the Booker 2011 if not fiction with western, crime and humour threaded through it?
And let us not forget the Steig Larsson phenomenon that has been breaking records left, right and centre. Having worked in a bookshop during the height of the craze for ‘The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo’ so many people entered the shop solely looking for this title – the buzz was that massive that it had reached the ears of people who hardly or ever read a book – but they simply HAD to read this one. And people would say to me it wasn’t their usual read but it was touted as a well-written crime novel and had been so highly recommended. Isn’t this what it is all about? Making people read especially when figures out recently show a sharp decline in sales of the printed word? Shouldn’t we drop the snobbery and petty rivalry and unite to get people interested in reading and seeing a sharp incline in sales, whatever the genre? It beats reading about Brent Council clearing out the Kensal Rise library opened by Mark Twain 112 years ago in a raid under cover of darkness. And they took the Mark Twain plaque as well! Isn’t that the sort of behaviour us Brits are normally appalled at when other countries pull similar underhand totalitarian stunts? And they wonder why there is so much illiteracy in our classrooms.
Anyway (takes deep breath after rant), I don’t think we will hear the death knell of books anytime soon. There is so much diversity out there and whether you prefer your crime literary or not, you will find something to get the old crime juices flowing. And there is plenty to celebrate over Crime Writing Month. Check out the CWA site on: www.thecwa.co.uk for details on different events that are happening around the country and please support these writers whose only passion is to entertain you. The ‘month’ culminates in the Theakstons Festival announcing the short list for the ‘2012 Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year Award’. From the 5th July you can have your say and vote for your favourite. Looking at the diverse long list I can guarantee that you will be spoilt for choice! So use your vote wisely…