Thursday, September 24, 2009

(No.54) More Crime Fiction

Like many readers of crime fiction, when I find an author new to me and if I like his or her work I look for other books by the same person, often a series of novels with the same lead characters. A particular favourite of mine, as I have indicated previously ( No.53), is the series of 18 novels by the Scot, Ian Rankin, set in Edinburgh featuring Detective Inspector John Rebus.

I have listed below several of the crime fiction novelists whose work I have read in recent months and years and which I recommend although not all with equal enthusiasm. Some of these novels lean more to providing entertainment and less to making one think. Some do both with great success. All are available in soft cover editions.

-- David Liss is an American who lives and works in San Antonio Texas. I think he is one of the finest historical novelists writing today. Any of his 6 novels to date, all but one set in Europe, provide great reading based on solid historical research. His latest is The Devil's Company (2009) set in England of the 1720s.

-- Mark Billingham created a gritty London Detective Inspector named Tom Thorne several years ago. This series of novels feature plots and atmosphere distinctly darker than traditional police procedurals. Indeed they belong to a modern school of British crime fiction whose leader in my opinion is Ian Rankin. Thorne is the sort of detective who is light years away from, say, Dorothy L. Sayers' Lord Peter Wimsey or P.D. James' Adam Dalgleish or even Colin Dexter's D.C.I. Morse. Try out this series with The Burning Girl (2004).

-- Frank Tallis is an English psychologist and writer who has created one of the more interesting premises for a detective series. His novels are set in Vienna ca 1900 and the police detective is not the lead character. He is the one called on by the detective for assistance, Dr. Max Liebermann, a medical doctor and a disciple of one of Vienna's most intresting residents, Dr. Sigmund Freud. However the Freud character being Jewish (as is Liebermann) provides a plot avenue to explore the nature and depth of anti-semitism in the pre-World War One Austro-Hungarian Empire. Anyone who has visited Vienna will particularly enjoy some of the plots' references to the city. There are currently three novels in the series; try A Death in Vienna (2005).

-- When it comes to darkness and grit another member of the 'new' school of British crime fiction writers is Graham Hurley. His series of novels are on a par with Mark Billingham's when it comes to grit. They are set in the English naval port city of Portsmouth and their two leading characters are an upright detective inspector and a somewhat bent detective constable. There are nine novels so far in the series. Try the latest one: No Lovelier Death (2009).

-- Alex Gray, perhaps inspired by Ian Rankin's success with the Edinburgh policeman John Rebus, created a detective chief inspector in the Glasgow police dept. to solve crimes in that Scottish city. The series, begun in 2007, is interesting for its depiction of Glasgow's atmosphere and urban landscape. The writing and plots are not up to Rankin standards but they are acceptable. Try Pitch Black (2008).

T. Jefferson Parker is an American novelist who reminds me in his ability and plots of that old master of U.S. crime fiction -- Elmore Leonard. Parker has been writing crime novels for more than twenty years . His novels are usually set in southern California, Orange County and San Diego in particular. With the odd exception his police characters appear only in a single novel. He is a very good story teller whose plots are usually very successful at keeping the reader's interest at a high point. At least a few of his titles will normally be found on the shelves of most bookstores. Almost any of them are worth a look.

Iain Pears is an English journalist and art historian who has written several novels set mainly in Italy featuring an English art dealer/historian named Jonathan Argyll and his partner/lover/wife Flavia di Stefano of Rome's Art Theft Squad. If the reader is interested, as I am, in art and the art world as well as crime plots then these novels combine the two worlds in an elegant and interesting fashion. Try The Titian Committee (2000).

Alastair Rickard