Monday, September 21, 2009

(No.53) Crime Fiction

In a book review I read recently the writer argued that "the point of crime fiction is to make you think while entertaining you". I agree up to a point. I enjoy the crime fiction genre and its subsets, from police procedural all the way to historical suspense and many points in between, but it must be admitted even by its fans that too much of the crime fiction pouring forth in recent years not only does not make one think, it isn't all that entertaining.

In a previous column on (see No. 27) I referred to several crime fiction novelists. One of my favourites is the fine Scottish writer Ian Rankin. He had ended his long running series featuring the Edinburgh Detective Inspector John Rebus. Rankin's first post-Rebus novel, Two Trains Running was an interesting story revolving around stolen art in Edinburgh but it was not in the same class as the Rebus novels.

Rankin's latest novel I am pleased to say plays in the same league as Rebus. The Complaints (2009) features what I hope will be the first of a series involving Inspector Malcolm Fox of the Complaints & Conduct Department of the Lothian & Borders (Edinburgh) police. He investigates other police officers and, like the 'internal affairs' people so often featured in American cop shows, is loathed by his fellow police because of his role.

Unlike Rebus, who was himself the sort of cop who attracted the attention of the Complaints people, Fox is a reformed heavy drinker but like Rebus has problems relating to women and has a similar sort of persistent, irritating, and highly individualistic attitude to both authority and his job. Fox follows his own road through a plot nicely crafted by Rankin.

Fans of the 18 John Rebus novels (the first published in 1983) will enjoy The Complaints even if they do not entirely agree with me that Malcolm Fox bids fair to become as great a crime fiction character as the now retired John Rebus.

Very different from the novels of Ian Rankin are those of Susan Hill in her new series. Hill is a widely published English novelist, short listed for the Booker Prize, with a variety of books to her credit. In 2004 she created the first of four novels ( four thus far) featuring Detective Chief Inspector Simon Serrailler and various members of his extended family.

Set in contemporary small city/rural England the novels strike a rather different tone than that which predominates in crime fiction. They are well worth reading and for reasons of overlapping character development and continuing plot points they should be read in the order of their having been written. The first is The Various haunts of Men (2004) and the fourth and most recent is The Vows of Silence (2008). All are available in paperback.

Alastair Rickard