Monday 4 June 2018

Historical Noir by Barry Forshaw

Barry Forshaw's latest book, Historical Noir, published by Pocket Essentials, is a pleasingly concise, chronological survey of historical crime fiction which ranges from Lindsey Davis, chronicler of Ancient Rome, to authors whose chosen time period is rather more recent, such as James Runcie, Laura Lippman, and William Shaw. I should declare that there's an entry about myself, so I won't pretend to be wholly unbiased, but that said, I can assure you that I'd have enjoyed, and would have learned from, this book even if my work been completely overlooked. If you like history blended with mystery, you'll find here innumerable tips about what to read next, as well as pithy discussion of a sub-genre that is much more diverse than is often acknowledged.

One of the great merits of Barry Forshaw's writing is its readability; another is his lively enthusiasm for the genre. If you want lengthy academic disquisitions about crime writing, there are plenty of those around nowadays (though most will set you back a lot of money), but the "noir" series of genre studies that Barry has produced in recent years is packed with information and insight at a bargain price.

Some of those insights stem from Barry's past experience as a judge of the CWA Historical Dagger; others come from the authors themselves. There are many interviews with crime writers, again including myself, so the book contains a valuable range of viewpoints on this fascinating sub-genre. A word about the title, by the way: the introduction explains that "noir" is used here simply as a synonym for crime; it is, in effect, a brand for the series, and does not imply that the books discussed are invariably dark and disturbing - far from it.

It's customary, when reviewing a book such as this, to pick up on alleged omissions, and to challenge some of the author's judgements. Customary, and sometimes an excuse for the reviewer to show how well-read he or she is. On this occasion, I won't be tempted down that path. I'll simply say that I appreciate Barry's observation that Dancing for the Hangman is "a book to make readers wish that the versatile Edwards might tackle the historical crime genre more often." I'm pleased to say that those readers won't have much longer to wait for my next foray into the past - more news about this soon!

No comments: