Tuesday 20 January 2009

British Crime Writing

Barry Forshaw is a well-known crime fiction critic, and editor of the excellent ‘Crime Time’. His publications include The Rough Guide to Crime Fiction, but he has now produced a much larger and more ambitious two volume encyclopaedia, published by Greenwood. I should declare an interest, in that I contributed several of the essays, and I am one of the many writers whose work is subjected to critical assessment (in my case, by Michael Jecks, a former chairman of the CWA, who is more than generous with his comments.) But, leaving that aside, I am a keen fan crime fiction reference books, and most of those that have appeared over the years weigh down my bookshelves. Barry’s compendium is a very welcome addition.

There are so many interesting, and to me unexpected, features of the encyclopaedia that it’s difficult to know where to start in describing them. Barry has described that his emphasis has been on inclusivity, and the authors covered include not only the usual suspects, but also the likes of Peter Ackroyd and Iain Sinclair, who are not conventionally regarded as crime writers. The emphasis is on contemporary writers, but due attention is paid to names from the past such as the excellent Patrick Hamilton (sometimes oddly ignored in books about the genre) and the less stylish but under-rated E.C.R. Lorac.

There are a number of longish essays about particular subjects, such as Conventions, Noir, and Police Procedurals. I haven’t read all of them yet, but those I’ve sampled are extremely interesting. Of course, having a large number of contributors means that the approach is not entirely consistent, but that is part of the fun of the book, and besides, the diversity of subject matter and focus offers ample compensation.

The price of £90 means that this will not be an impulse buy. But it would make a great present for a crime fan. Otherwise, if you can beg, borrow or steal a copy, or persuade your local library to stock it, you will find much to entertain you. Of course, not all the opinions expressed by the contributors will find universal agreement. Of course, there will be debate about omissions (the choice of crime films which are discussed is highly selective, for instance.) But overall, the only reason why I have wanted to put the books down so far is that, after while, they become rather heavy!

1 comment:

Gary Dobbs/Jack Martin said...

Ive got the Rough Guide and I want this one.