Christopher Fowler, a worthy winner of the CWA Dagger in the Library a couple of years back, is one of the most interesting writers around. I first encountered his work through a book of short stories Demonized. It's a collection of dark tales that appealed to me a lot. I started to read and enjoy his flavoursome Bryant and May novels, and I've also appreciated his non-fiction. He and I have met several times, though we've never found the time for a long conversation, and one of these days, I hope to repair that omission..
His latest book is another non-fiction work, The Book of Forgotten Authors, and it displays the qualities that appeal to me in all his work. It's quirky, witty, and thoroughly entertaining. Like all the best books, from time to time this one confounds expectations. The opinions he expresses, the judgments he makes, are often provocative - in a good way. Like another (albeit very different) writer whom I admire, Julian Symons, Chris Fowler has the confidence to recognise that others may disagree, and the good sense to realise that this doesn't matter a jot.
This is not a book that focuses exclusively on crime writers - in fact, it ranges widely (and I was very pleased to find that he covers various authors I've never even heard of, alongside one or two who may be turning in their graves now they've been labelled "forgotten"). But there's a good deal about crime fiction, and the writers he features range from Edgar Wallace and Georgette Heyer to Kyril Bonfiglioli, John Creasey, and Boileau and Narcejac. Overall, the book's a treasure trove of intriguing trivia. It's also packed with crisp, off-beat comment..
Discussions of 99 individual authors are interspersed with longer sections covering a miscellany of topics. Some of these, like the choices of the featured authors, have a rather random feel to them, but that's part of the appeal of this book. All of the entries contain something to interest and amuse readers who love popular literature. And the underlying message that I take from Chris Fowler's book is that, even for those writers who achieve huge success, fame is often fleeting, and perhaps matters much less in the long run than we might believe. .