Tuesday, 3 June 2008

The progress of a crime writer

One of the first non-Christie crime novels that I read was The Progress of a Crime by Julian Symons. A good book, but this post is about something which I find even more interesting – the progress of a crime writer’s career. It’s fair to say that most writing careers have their ups and downs, with sometimes many more downs than up. I know a good many very capable authors who are currently without a publishing contract. So it’s a pleasure to tell a story that does a happy ending.

I’ve just finished White Nights by Ann Cleeves. It’s the second book in the Shetland Quartet featuring DI Jimmy Perez – the first book in the series, Raven Black, won the CWA Duncan Lawrie Dagger for best crime novel of 2006. I’m happy to say that I started reading Ann’s work when her first couple of novels came out late in the 1980s. We later met and became friends, and colleagues in the Murder Squad collective of seven Northern crime writers. So of course I feel a degree of prejudice in her favour. But since I liked her writing – and reviewed her books - from the outset, I also feel that I can retain a degree of objectivity in commenting on her work, as is the case when I talk about the novels and short stories of other friends.

I’ve read all Ann’s books, and almost in the precise order in which they were written and it’s good to see not only how her work has developed over the past twenty years, but also how her career has really taken off since she won the award. Of course, awards are a lottery, to some extent, but their real merit, it seems to me, is that they can help lift a writer to a higher level of public awareness, and this has certainly been true in Ann’s case. She was a very accomplished writer long before she achieved wide public recognition and high sales.

In fact, it seems scarcely credible today that one of her early books, Sea Fever, failed for some years to find an English publisher. It came out in the States, but then she lost her American publishing contract. For some years, she was not published in paperback in the UK. But following that CWA Dagger triumph, her work is not only increasingly prominent in the US, but available in translations in many languages.

What about White Nights, then? I’ll have more to say about it on another day. For now, it’s enough to state that I think that it is probably Ann Cleeves’ best book so far. Better even than Raven Black , at least in my opinion.


Patricia said...

Martin, did I read that you are shortlisted for a Dagger? If so, congratulations! (I believe you have already received the honor previously...)

I've not read Ann Cleeves except in EQMM where she had a fantastic short story. Looking forward to it someday soon.

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks very much, Patricia! I've been shortlisted for the short story Dagger in the past, but I've never won it.

Xavier said...

My fingers are crossed.