Wednesday, 4 December 2019

Crime Fiction: a Reader's Guide, by Barry Forshaw

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Christmas is coming and for those of you looking for a present for the crime fan in your life, Barry Forshaw's Crime Fiction: a Reader's Guide, published by Oldcastle Books in paperback at the price of £12.99 is definitely an attractive solution. This is a book that is concise yet wide-ranging, and is particularly well-suited for crime fans who are looking for fresh titles to add to their to-be-read list. For good measure, there is a short intro from Ian Rankin.

I don't claim to be wholly impartial about this book. Barry is someone who has done a great deal of good for many, many crime writers over the years, and I'm in that long list of beneficiaries; specifically, this book includes a nice piece about Gallows Court. Two of the things I've always liked about Barry's writing about the genre are his enthusiasm and his positivity. He is, like me, a fan of crime fiction as well as someone who writes about it, and at a time when critical negativity often seems depressingly fashionable, his constructive approach comes as a breath of fresh air.

Right at the start, Barry acknowledges that in a book like this, there are bound to be many omissions. Of course, that is absolutely unavoidable, and would still be unavoidable if the book was even longer. The publishers (almost inevitably) claim that this is 'a truly comprehensive survey with definitive coverage', and I wouldn't go that far. What is beyond doubt is that, in the space available, few writers could have covered so much ground, particularly as regards books written in the twenty-first century.

The kernel of this book was the earlier (and much shorter) Rough Guide to Crime Fiction, a point which Barry acknowledges. So if you're familiar with that book and/or Barry's newspaper reviews, you shouldn't expect something totally original, but you will find a great deal of material here that wasn't in the book's earlier incarnation. Even if you have the original volume, therefore, you will find that this one is a worthwhile purchase.

The emphasis of the book is on relatively recent titles, and Barry's expertise in the field of translated crime means that books originally written in languages other than English receive excellent coverage. One of the charms of the layout is the juxtaposition of titles. So in the section about 'Cops', you get in quick succession books by the following slightly unlikely bedfellows: Martyn Waites; Martin Walker; Joseph Wambaugh; and Sarah Ward. There are many other examples of Barry's flair for spotting the common threads in superficially different works of fiction. I've really enjoyed dipping into this volume randomly to discover new-to-me titles, and I am sure many other crime fans will take equal pleasure from it. 

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