It’s not everyone’s idea of the perfect Valentine’s Day activity, starting a blog about crime and mystery fiction, is it? But I suppose it kind of works. After all, not many holidays can claim their very own massacre. And what do most people do today? They present loved ones with stylised representations of internal organs, inscribed with sinister messages: you are mine; I carry your heart with me; we will always be together. That, or they give bouquets the colour of gore. Now, that’s weird, if you ask me.
My life of crime began with Holmes, of course, and more of that later, but stories about crime always been a thread of my life, an intrinsic part of how I shape the narrative of my life. When my primary school peers were obsessed with the machinations of the Saddle Club or the Babysitters’ Club or any of the other fictional clubs that seemed to spawn a host of novels during that era, I was pouring over the exploits of Jane Marple and Hercule Poirot. It’s to my parents’ credit that they didn’t freak out when, aged about 9, I started working my way through the true crime section of my local library.
I read other things, too, devouring the recommendations of my teachers like the voracious, precocious little monster I was. That was, I suppose, when I learned that not all books were equal. Why was my teacher impressed by me reading Crime and Punishment and Great Expectations , both novels that take as their centre point crime and guilt, when mention of Murder on the Orient Express or The Long Goodbye made him wrinkle his nose in disapprobation?
There is an anxiety about crime fiction, that it is cheap and too easy to read and write or that it is somehow distasteful and vicious. When I first started an MLitt in Creative Writing, I was nervous and, I’m afraid to say, ashamed of working on a crime novel. I felt I should be doing something more worthy, more literary. But like a poorly weighted body decomposing in a lake, crime and mystery keep popping up in my own work. You can’t help but tell the story that wants to be told.
The more I read, too, the more I feel that categorising novels into genres is less to do with writing and writers and more to do with marketing and sales. It’s not what’s most important. Writers like Elmore Leonard, Fred Vargas, Susan Hill, Henning Mankell take the conventions of the crime genre and twist them to their own splendid ends: creating strange and wonderful stories.
This blog is a way for me, as both a reader and a writer, to think deeply about startlingly good and unusual fiction and film which happen to contain an element of crime or mystery. I hope too, dear reader, you might find some suggestions for reading or viewing in these pages and I would love to hear your recommendations in the comments below.