So Where Do We Go From Here? Crime fiction today, by Ayo Onatade
Crime fiction can always in my opinion hold its head up amongst all the other different genres. It is the most read, borrowed and written. In fact, I would go as far to say that it is at the top of the leader board.
Like a lot of crime readers my taste in reading is quite eclectic. I would hasten to say that it is much easier for me to say which sub-genres of crime fiction I tend not to read as opposed to the ones that I do. Most importantly, the specific sub-genre I read depends on whether I am reading it for pleasure or because I am reviewing it or writing an article. To me this is quite significant. I am a lot less critical if I am reading a book for pleasure. For example, I have no problem with blood and gore. Val McDermid’s Wire in the Blood and The Mermaid’s Singing are amongst my favourite books but I am not that keen on serial killers. The Killer inside Me by Jim Thompson, The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris, Jeff Lindsay’s Dexter series and Chelsea Cain’s Gretchen Lowell are amongst the few exceptions to this rule. Sometimes I think that serial killers have been overdone. I mean there are only so many ways that you can kill someone and for it to be a standout book it has to be unusually unusual.
The same goes for psychological crime novels. I will read them if I am doing an interview or if I am reviewing the book but I don’t tend to read them for pleasure. Of course Patricia Highsmith, Ruth Rendell and P D James are exceptions. On the other hand, I don’t mind domestic suspense with authors such as Shirley Jackson, Dorothy B Hughes, Vera Caspary and Celia Fremlin. But they are the ‘old guard’. Of the current authors who are writing in this sub-genre, the three that stand out that I will always read are Laura Lippmann, Megan Abbott and Alex Marwood. That is not to say that they are the only three that I will read but they are the top in my opinion. What would of course please me the most is that for at least the next five years there are no more books with the word ‘Girl’ in the title. We have of course had Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins, Mary Kubica’s The Good Girl, Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll and Megan Miranda’s All the Missing Girls to name a few. Please no more!
But where do we go from here or I should say where do I hope that we go from here? I like puzzles, I like intrigue and I like to be made to think when I am reading a novel. I also like cross-genre fiction. Prime examples of course are Paul Auster’s The New York Trilogy, Mark Danielewski’s House of Leaves, Italo Calvino’s If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler, Tea From an Empty Cup by Pat Cadigan, Jonathan Lethem’s Gun, with Occasional Music, China Mieville’s The City and The City, The Manual of Detection by Jedediah Berry and The Automatic Detective by A Lee Martinez. Yes, I do accept that some of these will also be considered to be ‘old’ but they are examples of what I consider to be cross-genre at its best. More recently of course we have Lauren Beukes’s The Shining Girls, Stephen King’s 11/22/63, Red Planet Blues by Robert Sawyer and Adam Christopher’s Made to Kill. I would like to see more cross-genre fiction and hope that this will happen. Why, because whilst it is a complement of two or more different genres it is also a way in which one can draw in more readers who are interested in different genres.
I am also deeply fond of series books and appreciate that it is not easy to create a standout series that will stand the test of time. But there are authors that have managed to do so and it is a testament to their writing skills and the fact that they realise there may be series fatigue at some stage that they are able to do so. Hence the reason that I am particularly fond of Ragnar Jonasson’s Dark Iceland series of books which so far are Snowblind, Nightblind and Blackout with Rupture and Breathless, due to be published in 2017. Of course it is now commonplace for authors who write a series to take a break from it (and recharge their batteries) by writing a standalone novel or in some cases starting a new series. One could quote a long list of series that continue to fascinate and have a loyal following as examples of series that are at the top of their game.
There are also those crime novels that cannot be pigeonholed into a specific sub-genre. Epiphany Jones by Michael Grothaus certainly falls into this category. More of this type of novel would do wonders for the genre and would of course ensure that it cannot be accused of complacency.
I like the fact that that spy thrillers are still being read widely and I would like to see more of them. This year Moskva by Jack Grimwood (aka Jon Courtenay Grimwood), Mick Herron’s Real Tigers, A Hero of France by Alan Furst and John Lawton’s The Unfortunate Englishman are some of the best (in my opinion anyway) spy thrillers that have been published recently. Gone are the days when spy thrillers were mainly read by men. This certainly is no longer the case and in any event authors such as those mentioned above as well as Charles Cumming have clearly shown that this is a sub-genre that is still flourishing and will continue to thrive. One also cannot forget the fact that Tom Hiddleston has made spies sexy again with his turn in John Le Carre’s The Night Manager.
I am also a big fan of historical crime novels and whilst my taste generally tends towards Roman and Greek historical fiction there have been some brilliant historical novels written of late, for example Andrew Taylor’s new series The Ashes of London which is set around the Great Fire of London. It is I know not easy to find a period of history that has not yet been written about and even if you do, being able to present it in a fashion that readers will find readable is also a daunting task. With historical fiction (according to the CWA Dagger guidelines) being 35 years from the year of the award, we are now looking at events that took place in 1981. It would certainly be interesting to see how authors now deal with 1981 as an historical period.
Am I looking forward to certain books this year? Yes, I am. No doubt there will be a vast number of crime, mystery and thriller books published and there will be many that I will be hoping to read. What I can say (from a personal point of view) is what type of books I would like to see more of. Aside from those discussed earlier more translated novels would be most welcome. I am not talking about Scandinavian crime novels. They are good but I think that there has now come a time where there should be a shift in emphasis. I am thinking the rest of the world, especially books translated from Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, Arabic and German to name a few. Am I being too optimistic? I hope not for as far as I am concerned, crime, mystery and detective fiction (or however you would like to describe it) is here to stay and it will take a massive shove to knock it off its perch!