Saturday, November 03, 2007

Follow Up

"I agree with what you say about contemporary crime fiction. There are a lot of fine technical writers who turn out overblown stories with self indulgent hero(ine)s. Everything seems to strive to be Tarantino smooth instead of simply realistic. mtm"

The above was one of the responses to my post last night about the sameness of too much current crime fiction in subject matter if not technique as well. I think it says exactly what I should have said. (Please keep in mind that my First Rule of Reading is--we read what gives us pleasure no matter who says it's good or bad--and that includes Gorman's bloviating. I don't need to remind you that these are my opinions as a reader, nothing more.)

I was responding to stopping by a fairly sizable paperback stand yesterday and looking through the the crime fiction titles I found there. Without an exception they were all about troubled FBI agents, troubled macho cops or troubled heroines threatened by some person from the past. They were outnumbered of course by the number of titles about vampires diddling each other.

As mtm says, most of these books are undoubtedly skillfully crafted and entertaining to read. All I wonder about is how the same tropes can find an audience again and again. This isn't to say that there aren't fine serial killer novels--try John Lutz's a In At The Kill, a particularly fine example of the sub-genre. As for troubled heroines, try anything by Patricia MacDonald. Like Lutz, she's a real writer whose books have true inner lives. Macho cops...Michael Black stands the sub-genre on its head. He's something fresh in the field.

As a writer, I'm not an innovator, either. Real innovators sometimes come along in groups. Right now you can find most of them in the group that includes Ken Bruen, Jason Starr, Vicki Hendricks, Duane Swierczynski, Dave Zeltersman etc. It's significant that I've never seen any of their books on a supermarket/pharmacy/Wal-Mart bookshelf. This may simply be because I live in Iowa where the distributors never stock anything that isn't on The List. We get a very narrow spectrum of titles out here except, of course, for the chains.

It's not that I don't enjoy nail-biters or adventure novels. Love the damned things. I just like them when they're not same old same old. There are a number of crossover horror writers doing dark suspense these days who deserve mainstream audiences, Tom Piccirilli chief among them. And I wish somebody would backlist Norm Partridge. He's done some extraordinary work in the suspense genre.

In mystery and suspense I still like books that have some relevance to everyday life. I mentioned King's Cujo. The belly fire in that book is how it shows us decent, common people struggling not just against the problems of the plot but with their own difficulties as human beings. Yes, poor Cujo is memorable as hell. But so are the people.

Nancy Pickard and Laura Lippmann are two of the best writers we have. They give us books about us. The Way We Live Now was a book title in the sixties. That's what these two writers bring to the table every book out.

There's a whole hell of a lot going on in mystery fiction...I just wish more of it was available where we buy milk and shaving cream.


Anonymous said...

I would add Margaret Coel. Her mysteries deal with crime through the lens of another culture, which makes them fresh and absorbing.

Graham Powell said...

As mtm says, most of these books are undoubtedly skillfully crafted and entertaining to read.

I dunno. Lately I seem to be reading very, very few contemporary crime novels. Most of the ones I pick up are between 20 and 50 years old. Many of today's novels seem to have a lot more words but no more depth, and they don't seem to have the same snap as the older books.

The writers you listed seem to be the exceptions.

Anonymous said...

Let's hear it for Norm Partridge and his Jack Badalach (sp?) books! Man, I wish he'd write more of those and find a publisher for them. You wouldn't think the latter would be difficult, considering the level of energy those stories contained. They make most of the current thrillers look like snoozefests in comparison.

"...vampires diddling each other." I laughed out loud when I read that. If only Anne Rice knew what she was starting. I get a kick out of your curmudgeonly comments on the current state of genre fiction, Ed. Keep it up.

Jeff P.