Thursday 30 April 2015

IAF15: Crime Writing – The Poor Man’s Literary Fiction?

By Gillian Hamer

Quote: "There are still people who look down on the crime novel. No crime writer has won the Man Booker Prize. For many, despite the example of PD James and Ruth Rendell, crime fiction is still seen as genre fiction, and therefore inferior to the straight novel."

I read the above quote recently, which as a lifelong devotee of crime fiction – reader as well as writer – sent me off into a red-misted tail spin.

Really? I mean, really?

In this day and age of political correctness, where even your average politician is scared to address his own shadow incorrectly … are there readers out there who think no matter how popular, how best-selling, how brilliant a novel may be … if it’s classed as genre then it’s deemed inferior?

Personally, I don’t think so. I’m not sure your average reader really cares. BUT there are, I believe, a whole generation of ‘experts’ and ‘reviewers’ who do hold those values.

I’ve never understood the whole genre -v-literary debate (but then I am a bit dim) so I have asked other writers’ opinions also. And it appears very few of them understand it either. So, I am going to take on the baton and defend the wonderful genre that is crime.

Crime writers have a distinct advantage over authors of straight or literary novels. Simply, we are not restricted by barriers. We can write about any level of society, any class, religion or creed without fear, whereas the modern literary novelist has tighter confines, tending to deal with only a single layer of society in order to maintain realism. But crime permeates society, from top to bottom, and winds a spiders’ web of connections between those layers. From MPs and Bishops, to illegal immigrants and prostitutes, crime novels introduce the writer (and reader) to a cross-section of lifestyles and experiences. It offers the opportunity to delve into dark pasts of even the grandest, most saintly of characters and discover the secrets and shadows of the present day.

Crime writing offers such freedom it’s no wonder authors from Dickens (because surely Oliver Twist can be classified as a crime novel) to JK Rowling (who swapped wizards for Private Investigators in her Robert Galbraith novels) turn to crime – in the literary sense!

And if you want to take a deeper look at crime fiction, take a look at writers like Ian Rankin and Val McDermid whose novels are both addictive and disturbing, but also pose difficult questions about law and order. ‘Who will guard the guards?’ they ask. Police, guardians of our society, are only human, susceptible to temptations presented to them, and who may have closer allegiances to the criminals then to those whose duty it is to protect.

So, if you are a reader who agrees with any part of my opening quotation, think again. Because crime is the new black … and it’s coming to get you!

Born in the industrial Midlands, Gillian's heart has always yearned for the wilds of North Wales and the pull of the ocean. The Charter, Closure, Complicit and Crimson Shore are all set around the dramatic coastline of Anglesey and North Wales.

1 comment:

  1. It isn't my experience that Crime fiction is looked down on as a genre. Good Crime is notoriously difficult to write, hence there is a plethora of good-ish and formulaic Crime and precious little that is truly outstanding. That's why it doesn't win prizes when pitched against non-genre fiction, in my opinion.