Talking to many other crime fiction fans my introduction to crime fiction echoes many others, like them I was introduced to crime when my grandmother gave me two books by Agatha Christie. I was twelve at the time and in the early eighties there wasn’t anything remotely resembling the choice young readers have these days. I must have been looking through my Nan’s books (she had a big bookcase that reached from floor to ceiling) crammed full of Christie, Sayers, Marsh (another big favourite of hers), Dick Francis, Nigel West, Robert Ludlum and other writers of criminal or spy orientation. Nana Simmons did prefer her classics and I do remember when she gave me a book she had recently acquired by a new(ish) writer she ‘couldn’t get on with’. It makes me chuckle that the book was ‘An Unsuitable Job for a Woman’ by P.D. James. What would she have thought of James’ huge presence in the crime fiction world were she alive today?
But I digress, back to Christie. My very first crime novel was ‘Sad Cypress’ which is not one of Christie’s better known novels, but for me it was a revelation that there were so many unknown treasures out there in the world of literature. Having devoured that one and the other, ‘After the Funeral’ I searched for Christie’s other books in jumble sales and libraries (no Internet to make buying books easy) and very quickly moved on to Marsh and Sayers. Rapidly I moved on to current writers like P.D. James and, for me, my ultimate crime writer, Ruth Rendell when I was blown away by the first book of hers I read, ‘To Fear a Painted Devil’.
Like many, I roamed in to other territories reading Tolkien and general fiction like Margaret Atwood and John Irving (still two favourite authors of mine) but like a homing pigeon I always came back to crime fiction. I think I liked the way there was chaos, then a servant of order would arrive amongst the chaos and soon order would be restored again. Christie was brilliant for that, especially throughout the Second World War where people craved to see good overcoming evil. I believe that is the reason why she has endured.
It is also why the Harrogate Festival holds the Theakston Crime Writing Festival at The Old Swan where Christie was discovered when she disappeared. But I won’t go on about that as I wrote about that in 2012! For me, the big pull in 2013 is the appearance of Ruth Rendell, who alongside P.D. James has dominated the crime fiction arena. In an interview for her book, ‘The Birthday Present’ I mentioned Rendell being recognised as ‘The Queen of Crime’. I suggest to anyone wanting to keep their head on their shoulders should not use this phrase in Baroness Rendell’s presence. What I will say is that for nearly fifty years Rendell has inspired the genre and is still inspiring new writers to this very day.
So, besides Ruth Rendell who else is on the cards to appear? Lee Child, (newly nominated for this year’s ‘CWA Diamond Dagger’) will be parachuted in to Harrogate (maybe not as awe-inspiring as the Queen) but this writer has garnered an enormous fan base. When I worked at Waterstones loads of people, particularly men, would come in and announce the only time they entered a book store was when Lee Child had released a new book, so huge is his appeal.
Kate Atkinson, creator of the Jackson Brodie series will be appearing as well as Susan Hill, author of the Simon Serailler series. Both writers segued in to crime fiction and here is another big curve in the serpentine path crime fiction has taken: that this maligned genre can also be high quality literature, too. (Cue gasps of horror from the old guard…).
And we end with Charlaine Harris who had to cancel her appearance in 2012, but will be appearing in July. Harris is better known for her ‘True Blood’ series but started out writing the Aurora Teagarden series. I expect there will be a huge amount of interest for this author.
The full list of authors hasn’t yet been announced but you can guarantee it will read like a ‘Who’s Who’ of crime fiction. For any crime fan this is a huge event in their calendar and I for one am excited to be going there and I am sure we will all be wondering if there will be any whiff of scandal as in 2012 with what will surely forever be known as ‘Leathergate’. Whatever happens, it will be a fairly murderous weekend which we will all thoroughly enjoy. The festival will be held from the 18th to 21st July. If you haven’t booked your ticket yet, I suggest you get a wriggle on!
Chris Simmons, Crime Squad