Regular readers will know that I am a voracious reader of crime fiction. I have written before of my binge reading of Vancouver’s own Laurence Gough, Norway’s Jo Nesbo, P.D. James, Michael Dibdin, Ian Rankin, and many others. Even today I am bingeing my way through Peter Temple’s excellent four-book Jack Irish series set in Melbourne, Australia.
Back in April I reported on some discussions on the genre at the 2019 Edgar Awards. Now, at Boucheron, we have a long and often informative debate on the current state of the crime novel as discussed by crime writers themselves.
The second question asked (after the now-obligatory nod to diversity) asked whether crime novels had a responsibility to grapple with real world issues. It received a mixed response. On one side, Alex Segura noted:
“The best crime novels, for my money, also serve as cutting social commentary—they put a mirror up to our world, and show us how we live and are, warts and all. I don’t think crime novels should—or can, really—come up with solutions to all of society’s ills, but they should damn well try to show us a world that is like our own, so readers can at least take their vitamins with their dessert.”
While James Ziskin disagreed:
“Not at all. Sometimes we want to be entertained and other times we want to change the world. There’s room enough under our tent for pure escapist fare, farces, capers, and comedies of manners as well as fiction with social themes or conscience.”
I probably agree with Ziskin although my own reading tends to match Segura’s take. For example, the Jack Irish books I am currently reading are teaching me a great deal about modern life in suburban Australia, and Jo Nesbo’s pieces did the same for me about Scandinavia.
There is a lot to take in here, not least a long list of writers I have yet to read. One thing to notice, though, throughout this long piece, not one of my favourite crime authors (see first paragraph above) is mentioned. Hmmm.