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May 14, 2013

Music to murder to: crime writers on their killer soundtracks

'OK, OK, we'll go with Band of Horses' … music is always a personal thing.

‘OK, OK, we’ll go with Band of Horses’ … music is always a personal thing.

You’re more likely to see other crime writers at gigs than literary events, so what role does music have in the creation of crime fiction?

By Martyn Waites

Music and crime fiction. They go so well together that it’s become something of a cliche. You know the kind of thing: the lone detective who comes into his apartment late at night, gets a beer or bourbon and stares out of the window wracked by existential angst at the horror he’s seen, all the while listening to cool jazz. And it’s always cool jazz – never Chris Barber doing When The Saints Go Marching In. Same with Morse and his opera. Always dark and Wagnerian – never Pirates of Penzance. I know this is shorthand to show the detective is troubled about what he (usually he) has seen and what he should have done but, really, is it an accurate picture? And is it only a boy thing?

So what role does music play in the creation of crime fiction? Is there such a thing as a killer soundtrack? And does the music crime writers write to differ from that of other writers? I should know the answers. As well as being the Theakston’s Old Peculier crime writing festival’s reader in residence I’ve also been a professional crime novelist for over 15 years and, like most men in their 40s, an amateur musicologist.

These days crime writers are more likely to be seen at gigs than literary events. As well as passing on new books they’ve discovered, they’ll be giving other writers mix CDs of new bands. I came across Lord Huron, Caitlin Rose and Night Beds that way. I’m pretty sure crime writers are more likely to be frustrated rock stars than any other genre of writers. In fact, Jo Nesbo actually is a rock star.

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February 14, 2013

The mystery of crime writer MC Beaton

beaton11_2474214bJake Kerridge profiles MC Beaton, the crime writer who’s the third most borrowed adult author in Britain.

At first glance, there are not many surprises in the newly released list of the most borrowed authors in UK libraries in 2011-12. The products that come off the James Patterson conveyor belt still retain their unfathomable popularity, putting him in the number one slot, while the tear-jerking romance writer Nora Roberts is number two.

But in this who’s who of authors, there comes a who’s that? moment for many people when they reach the third name on the list: MC Beaton.

We don’t see Beaton having chin-stroking conversations with Alan Yentob on television à la Ian Rankin (17 places below her) because her detective stories are light and amusing. She writes two series, one featuring the laid-back policeman Hamish Macbeth, the other set in the Cotswolds and starring Agatha Raisin, a retired PR queen turned amateur sleuth.

Ms Beaton, whose real name is Marion Chesney, is a small, elegant 76-year-old Glaswegian with a waspish sense of humour. She worked for many years as a journalist, in the days when she and her colleagues would blithely listen in to the stolen police radios they kept on their desks.

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October 29, 2012

Crime’s grand tour: European detective fiction

Crime’s grand tour: European detective fiction

Andrea Camilleri’s Inspector Montalbano (played by Luca Zingaretti in the TV series) questions what it means to be a good policeman

Crime fiction is a magnifying glass that reveals the fingerprints of history. From Holmes and Poirot to Montalbano and the rise of Scandi-noir, Mark Lawson investigates the long tradition of European super-sleuths and their role in turbulent times.

One of the functions of fiction is to serve as a kind of tourism, either showing us places, situations and people that we might not otherwise reach or scrolling through snapshots of events or sensations that we remember. Crime stories rarely serve the latter purpose – most admirers of homicide novels will, thankfully, never become or even know a murder victim – but are a perfect illustration of the former.

Throughout its history, crime literature has operated as a sort of imaginative travel agency, taking customers across borders and introducing them to unknown cultures. The story commonly considered the birth of the whodunit – Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” (1841) – was written by an American and set in Paris. Since then, the genre has regularly been a ticket for a Grand Tour.

Agatha Christie, an enthusiastic globe-trotter through her wealth and marriage to an archaeologist, sent Hercule Poirot on the Orient Express, Nile cruises and aeroplane journeys, depicting trips that the majority of her audience was unlikely ever to experience for real. Later in the 20th century, readers, listeners and viewers of detective tales learned about France from Simenon’s Maigret and the Netherlands through Nicolas Freeling’s Commissaris Van der Valk, who achieved the rare double of topping both the TV ratings lists (in the ITV series starring Barry Foster) and the pop charts, with the Simon Park Orchestra’s recording of the theme tune, “Eye Level”.

And, these days, Britons have a greater understanding of Scandinavian culture than ever before: not from exports such as Abba, Bjorn Borg, Volvo or Ikea, but through what was – at least until the recent apothesois of sado-masochistic soft porn – the biggest publishing phenomenon of the 21st century: the super-selling mystery stories of writers from Sweden (Stieg Larsson, Henning Mankell) and Norway (Jo Nesbø).

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September 20, 2012

The Street Is Hers: Quality Over Gender In Noir

  By Keith Rawson

Sexism and the arts (hell, sexism and anything really) is an unfortunate reality. Particularly for us critic-y types, who’ve had it drummed into our heads that we need to marvel in wonder at any piece of film, literature, sculpture, canvas, photography, etc., created by anyone nonwhite and not in possession of a penis. We’re taught that we need to mention, in fact, glorify that the piece of art was made by someone who’s Mexican or black or a woman, and that this is the sole thing we need to judge the art on.

But I really don’t want to harp on sex or race, because to put it bluntly, the entire subject has become a bit of a pet peeve of mine (which means I’m going to harp on it, kids). The thing about art is that it is supposed to be the great leveler, and gender and race roles aren’t supposed to be a factor in its creation; a great book is simply a great book, a great film is a great film. At least this is how it’s supposed to work in theory. But let’s face it, these identifiers aren’t going away anytime soon, even in my beloved crime fiction, where female author’s dominance tends to be the rule as opposed to the exception.

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January 3, 2012

The English love affair with the murder mystery

By Guy Stagg

The English are a morbid bunch. They see more ghosts per person than any other nation. Perhaps it is due to our relatively stable history, meaning that families and buildings stay around long enough to become haunted. Christmas always used to be a time for ghost stories, but recently they have been replaced by our other grisly fascination: murder mysteries.

This Christmas has been an especially good one for fans of the murder mystery. David Suchet was in fine form as he enters the final lap of his Poirot run, while P. D. James’s most recent novel Death Comes to Pemberley was a delightful, if brutal, sequel to Pride and Prejudice. Meanwhile 2012 brings the latest series of Sherlock and a new TV adaptation of The Mystery of Edwin Drood – the Dickens whodunit, left tantalisingly unfinished at the author’s death.

The English have always been fans of crime fiction, and murder mysteries in particular. But it’s not as if we have higher murder rate than any other country. So why do we enjoy reading about it so much?

England did not invent the murder mystery. However, we did perfect the genre. The Golden Age of detective fiction was between the wars, where writers like Dorothy L Sayers and GK Chesterton became household names, while Agatha Christie went on to sell more novels than any author in history.

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December 17, 2011

“The Amateur Detective Just Won’t Do”: Raymond Chandler and British Detective Fiction

a tough critic

By Curtis Evans

In a three-part essay, I explore crime writer Raymond Chandler’s attitude toward the classical British detective novel.  Though Chandler, one of the major figures in the American hard-boiled mystery movement, commonly is portrayed as deeply hostile to classical British detection, the truth, I argue, is a rather more complex matter.
Reading Englishman Nicholas Blake’s mystery novel The Beast Must Die (1938) for the first time in 1950, the great American hard-boiled detective novelist Raymond Chandler was moved to comment (in a letter to future mystery critic James Sandoe) on his disappointment with the tale.  Chandler wrote that he initially had found the story “damn good and extremely well written.”  He went on to lament, however, the “devastating effect” on the tale “of the entrance of the detective, Nigel Strangeways, an amateur with wife tagging along.”
Chandler conceded that the “private eye”– the type of detective associated most prominently with his own work (and that of his contemporary Dashiell Hammett)–”admittedly is an exaggeration—a fantasy.”  Nevertheless, he asserted of the private eye that “at least he’s an exaggeration of the possible.”  Contrarily, Chandler declared, the “amateur gentleman who outthinks Scotland Yard is just plain silly.”  In fictional mystery, Chandler concluded peremptorily, “the amateur detective just won’t do.”
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September 12, 2011

‘Death of the Mantis’ is an African thriller with Minnesota roots

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By Euan Kerr

“Death of the Mantis,” the third book in the internationally successful Detective Kubu mystery series, arrives in bookstores this week.

Like the other Michael Stanley novels it’s set in Botswana. This time the detective tries to solve a series of murders on the edge of the Kalihari desert. While the books are distinctively African, there is an important Minnesota connection.

Michael Stanley introduces himself.

“Michael Stanley is two of us actually,” said one of the two men sitting at the table. “I’m Stan Trollip and I write with my friend Michael Sears.”

Trollip and Sears combined their first names to create a nome de plume after writing their first novel “A Carrion Death.”

They are both South African, and both have had long careers as university professors. Sears lives in Johannesburg, but Trollip taught at the University of Minnesota, UND, and at Capella University. He still lives here part of the year.

Sears traces their writing career together back to an incident decades ago when they were traveling in Botswana.

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September 3, 2011

Murder, he wrote …

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By Diane de Beer

His earlier work in magic realism didn’t do well in this country, that is why Mike Nicol turned to crime.

In writing, of course, not reality.

He was fascinated by how well local author Deon Meyer was doing, but had always thought himself too superior for crime writing. Once he started delving deeper, he discovered there was far more to the genre than met his jaundiced eye.

And as Meyer sits across the table from now good friend Nicol, the then novice to crime writing tips a hat at the more seasoned author. In the meantime, Nicol has finished his first crime trilogy and might just have kept going with this particular gang if his partner hadn’t advised him to move on to something and someone else.

But he’s going to miss his two crime heroes (Mace Bishop and Pylon Buso) who scratched around in the underbelly of Cape Town as crime often sought them rather than they it.

When still researching the route he should go, Nicol was surprised to discover how many crime authors deal in social issues. But he also had to look at his style of writing.

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August 31, 2011

For George Pelecanos, D.C. makes ‘The Cut’

Filed under: Crime Fiction — Tags: , , , — Bookblurb @ 5:50 am

By Carol Memmott

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– George Pelecanos, gearhead, movie buff and crime novelist, is rolling through Silver Spring, Md., in his 2008 Bullitt-replica Mustang.

The Highland Green fastback, one of only 7,700 built by Ford, was snagged by guys who love the iconic 1968 film starring Steve McQueen. In his role as police Lt. Frank Bullitt, the Mustang-driving “King of Cool” pursues a Tuxedo Black Dodge Charger through San Francisco in one of the greatest car-chase sequences in movie history.

“It’s kind of corny, but I bought my own Bullitt Mustang,” says Pelecanos, 54, who says the McQueen movie was one of his favorites growing up. “I sort of had to have it.” He points out, with obvious delight, that his was No. 28 off the line.

“I have a great love of films,” he says. “I went from being a movie freak to being a novelist, and it was very influential in my work.”

The author of 17 crime novels set in the gritty, “other” Washington and a writer/producer for HBO’s critically acclaimed series The Wire and now Treme steers the Mustang over the D.C. line toward his destination: a church parking lot that he says “is a good place to kill a guy.”

Pelecanos has been here several times before, either on his Trek bike or on foot. It’s how he scouts locations for scenes in his books. The Cut adds a new protagonist — a young Iraq War vet turned P.I. named Spero Lucas — to the stable of detectives, cops, criminals and honest everyday folk of all colors who people his novels. The Cut went on sale today.

While he drives, Pelecanos points out a house where he imagines Lucas lives and the local Safeway where one of his characters buys his morning coffee. “I’m always out on my bike,” says Pelecanos, who lives in Silver Spring, not far from the nation’s capital. “I found Lucas’ house. I found the house he breaks into. I did the walk from his house to the church one night. I wanted to see what it feels like to be walking at night in these places where there are not many people. I wanted to make sure you could kill a guy a half-block from the 4th District police station.”

This coplike knowledge of the streets gives his novels authenticity. They are, he says, “a combination of just being out there, being engaged with the city, because I’m not a person who has a huge imagination. I can’t sit in an office and make my stories up or dream up my characters — I have to go out there and find them. I’m just a firm believer in breathing the air and feeling the dirt between your fingers.”

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