Wednesday, 30 March 2011

H.R.F.Keating R.I.P.

The death last Saturday of H.R.F. Keating has robbed us of a giant of the genre. Much has already been said by obituarists about his novels, featuring Inspector Ghote and others, which earned two CWA Gold Daggers, so I’d like to focus on other aspects of his career.

He was both imaginative and daring in his work. He wrote a long crime story in verse and dreamed up an unlikely but effective sleuth in the cleaner Mrs Craggs. His prose style was sometimes quirky, and very good at getting points across. And his work was full of ideas that gave clues to his considerable intellect.

Harry was not only a prolific reviewer, but an insightful commentator on the crime genre. He edited a book of excellent essays about Agatha Christie, a collection of stories honouring Julian Symons, two CWA anthologies, a study of crime writers past and present, and a first rate pot pourri called Who-Dun-It - as well as choosing 100 classics of the genre for a book that contained short and pithy accounts of why those particular stories would stand the test of time. He wrote with affection about the Golden Age in Murder Must Appetise.

I found him personally generous and kind. He provided a quote for the cover of The Devil in Disguise, and he and his wife Sheila Mitchell invited me to be their guest at the top table at Malice Domestic the night he received a lifetime achievement award. In latter years, we shared a publisher. Most recently, I enjoyed their company at Detection Club dinners. I shall miss him, but remember him with affection and admiration.


Anonymous said...

Martin - A fine commentary on what Keating accomplished and what he did for crime fiction. He will be greatly missed.

J F Norris said...

I only started attending mystery conventions when I could to afford to travel. I'll be attending a lot more now that I'm a blogger. I wish Keating had been at one of the few I managed to attend in the past eleven years. I would've loved to talk with him even if only briefly.

A sad day for me today when I read of his passing. Such wonderful books - both the novels and his excellent criticism and non-fiction.

Elizabeth Foxwell said...

Martin, thanks for highlighting Harry's considerable contributions in writing on the mystery genre. We probably could not list all his nonfiction pieces without going on for pages, but he wrote a few entries for the _Oxford Companion to Crime and Mystery Writing_, ed. Rosemary Herbert.

Michael Johnson said...

Harry Keating was a great conversationalist on the history of crime writing and crime writers he admired. He liked the old masters and unusually among crime critics, he advocated the merits of crime writing at its best as having no distinction from the mainstream tradition of English literature. This position was an important one; he argued it in various ways over several decades in the popular media such television and radio; it was simply for him about recognising the primacy of good writing.

Harry would talk at length on the names of the past, but it was his contemporaries for which he had a gift for understanding and a lovely affection. He particularly liked the books of P D James, Dick Francis and Len Deighton. And I know that they thought the world of him.

Harry was a great help and inspiration for me when I began to seek out writers to do appreciations for the Scorpion Press series of crime in fine bindings. He had a wonderful way of getting inside the writer. He did perceptive pieces on Colin Dexter, Dick Francis, Len Deighton and Jonathan Gash of the big names. And with the younger writers such as Boris Akunin, Barry Maitland and Andrew Taylor he would find some storytelling comparison with the masters.

Thank you Martin for reminding us of his outstanding abilities and aptitude as a critic. I and many others will miss him.