Tuesday, August 19, 2008

I'm addicted to crime...(fiction, that is)

I'm reading the latest in Peter Robinson's Inspector Banks series - All the Colours of Darkness. I've just finished Mo Hayder's Ritual. Of the last five books I've read, three have been crime fiction. And, I rather shamefacedly admit, this is not an unusual state of affairs.

crime books

It's an interesting phenomenon, this modern omnipresence of crime fiction, with all sorts of explanations for its popularity among respectable, mainly law-abiding readers. Most common is the theory that, as for Shakespearean comedy, the certainty of the eventual triumph of good - of resolution - allows readers to enjoy all sorts transgressions and evil, safe in the knowledge that order will be restored by the end of the play or the book. I'm not sure that this theory still holds good, as some of the more recent crime fiction writers, Mo Hayder for example, depict a word in which deep evil exists, and where some criminals go undetected and unpunished.

My favorite category of crime fiction has at its centre the world-weary, slightly alienated loner investigator, who quietly despairs at the state of the world around them - Henning Mankell's Kurt Wallender, Ian Rankin's Rebus and Sara Paretsky's V.I. Warshawski. Peter Robinson's Banks also falls into this category, but he doesn't quite have the depth of characterisation of my favorites. I guess these characters demonstrate a world-weariness that I fantasise I'd like to share.

Despite the theories, I think I know why I read crime fiction. I've always needed to read to 'escape'; reading simply for pleasure, rather than for self-improvement or illumination. I take great pleasure from strong narratives and characters I can care for. Before I discovered crime fiction I read vast quantities of nineteenth century fiction (and still do, when I find something I've not read) and I think I liked it for the same reasons I like crime fiction. Few things are more comforting and diverting than escaping into a Trollope novel, or immersing yourself in Margaret Oliphant's village life.

Still, even though my motives for reading them are similar, most people would probably be much more impressed by a sidebar of nineteenth century fiction than they are by my current reading list!

3 comments:

M-H said...

Crime is our fiction of choice too. Val McDermid is a fave in our household, also Barry Maitland (used to be Prof of Architecture in Newcastle NSW). Nicci French (actually a husband and wife couple) often writes from the POV of a victim of crime. For me it's the thrill of the chase (which I'm caught up in because my guess may be the right one) and the backfiling of the story after you find out how and why t hings have been done.

missfee said...

Oh I love crime fiction too, Henny Mankell is an absolute favorite of mine, and James Ellroy's earlier stuff. I love watching BBC crime too. I too love the trill of the chase and trying to guess who did IT!!!

Cecilia said...

I love crime fiction too! And Barry Maitland is a favourite. Had no idea he was Prof. of Architecture in Newcastle.

I read a lot of historical crime novels. I especially love the Julian Kestrel series (set in 19th-ct London) Kate Ross wrote. Sadly she published only 4 before she died quite young of cancer. Great characters, great books.