Some thoughts on crime fiction in 2012

Posted: December 31, 2012 in Uncategorized

Well thanks to the appalling weather that kept us indoors I did finally manage to read the  50 crime fiction books this year. I will post a list of my top 5 favourite reads next week, but here are a few meandering thoughts about the year in crime fiction.

2012 was a year of great loss for the online crime fiction community  with the tragic death of Maxine Clarke. Maxine’s intelligent comments, encouragement, book recommendations and above all friendship will be missed by so many in the community of crime fiction fans. 

Reginald Hill, creator of Dalziel and Pascoe, died earlier in the year and this was a big loss to fans of intelligent well written crime fiction. He did not receive as many accolades as less worthy writers, but his books are a fine epitaph. 

This was the year of the “sock puppet scandal” with a well known writer coming clean that he wrote excellent reviews of his own books, and derogatory ones of other authors. I suspect he is not alone, and many of those throwing up their hands in horror are just as guilty. 

One feature I noticed was the continued trend for crime writers to want to add on another couple of hundred pages of narrative to their books. Sometimes it works and sometimes it leads to repetition, padding and sub-plots that go nowhere. The 700 page novel…Middlemarch, Bleak House perhaps….. modern crime fiction no way.

Then there were a few books where the writers decided to both make a very bleak book even darker with a sad miserable ending. It was as if the writers said “hey we are Swedish let us lay on even more trauma on to our characters, and leave our readers really depressed”. In Cell 8 Roslund and Hellstrom decided that they would end the book with a too clever twist. Clever twists have to be believable, and most good twists have already been done by Agatha Christie, who in her later book Endless Night [1967] even succeeded in plagiarising her own twist in Death on the Nile [1937].

It was the end of  the great character Sarah Lund in a finale to series three of The Killing that was entirely satisfactory. I think many people read or watch TV crime fiction because they believe in Justice, and not in the what masquerades as Justice in our societies; the Law. Well done Sarah. 

Rebus is back, and I am reading Ian Rankin’s Standing In Another Man’s Grave at the moment. You have to read Scottish crime fiction on Hogmanay. I read the first Malcolm Fox book, and said to Mrs Crime Scraps as I finished it “Rebus will be back!” Interestingly Arnaldur Indridason with Outrage [featuring Elinborg], and Black Skies [featuring Sigurdur Oli] succeeded in producing two fine books without his main protagonist Erlendur. What will Ian Rankin give us next Rebus or Fox?

Scandinavian crime fiction continues to get published although some books have slipped below the high standard set in the past. But we can look forward to more from the elite writers such as Asa Larsson, Anne Holt, Liza Marklund and Leif G.W. Persson in 2013. On TV as well as The Killing, my viewing included Borgen and The Bridge from Scandinavia along with the superior British police procedural Scott and Bailey, and the Israeli inspiration for Homeland, Hatufim [Abductees].  

This was the year that Italy finally broke the Franco-Swedish grip on the CWA International Dagger. Andrea Camilleri at last won with The Potter’s Field, and BBC4  showed the ten part Montalbano series on television. This was one of the highlights of my TV viewing year. Also from Italy came the first in a series by Maurizio de Giovanni [translated by Anne Milano Appel] set in Naples in the 1930s featuring an anti-Fascist detective Commissario Ricciardi. I Will Have Vengeance [The Winter of Commissario Ricciardi] was subtle and intelligent, and I am looking forward to the next book in the series Blood Curse [The Springtime of Commissario Ricciardi] due to be published in May 2013. Historical crime fiction continued to be among my favourite reads during the year with author Roger Morris leaving his and Dostoevky’s Porfiry Petrovich in late 19th century Imperial Russia and starting a new series in 1914 Edwardian London in company with inspector Silas Quinn of ScotlandYard’s special crimes unit.

The Ellis Peters Historical Crime Fiction was deservedly won by Icelight, the third book in the ever improving Peter Cotton series by Aly Monroe. This evocative novel inspired a late in the year spy fiction reading and viewing bonanza in which I watched Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy in the Gary Oldman version. Old timers like me will always hark back to the BBC TV Alec Guinness portrayal of George Smiley, but I really enjoyed this movie version. I finished off the year reading the brilliant novel Spies of the Balkans** by Alan Furst, and the slightly too long The Nearest Exit by Olen Steinhauer, which introduced me to the “old fat woman” Erika Schwartz of the BND [German foreign intelligence service]. Erika enjoys a daily bottle of Rheinland Riesling and a Snickers bar, and became one of my favourite characters of the year.

Yesterday I finished reading Alibi by Joseph Kanon  which has a short but tempting opening line- “After the war, my mother took a house in Venice.” Both The Nearest Exit and Alibi won the Hammett Prize from the International Association of Crime Writers North American Branch.

I hope to find time in the New Year to review Spies of the Balkans as I particularly enjoyed  the twists and turns, and a plot that almost made you forget real life doesn’t always have happy endings. In January my reading plans include Leighton Gage’s Perfect Hatred, the sixth Mario Silva thriller set in Brazil, Pierced by Thomas Enger, and Spies of Warsaw by Alan Furst. 

Happy New Year, and pleasant reading to everyone.  

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Comments
  1. Norman – Thank you for such a terrific retrospective. It will be interesting to see what happens to crime fiction this year… I agree with the trend you noticed about longer and bleaker books. I hope that gets tempered. Too much of anything is…too much. A good 2013 to you!

  2. What a wonderful wrap up of the year Norman, a good one overall though a terribly sad ending to it due to Maxine’s death.

    And your recommendation of Aly Monroe’s third book has tipped me over the edge – you’ve never given me a dud rec for historical fiction yet. My resolution (well less of a resolution than a necessity due to localised austerity measures in the household budget) is to spend less on books but I have checked and my local library has her first book so I have placed a hold. Thanks.

  3. Oh and I meant to add – happy 2013 to you too, I wish you much good reading…though not too much appalling weather – don’t want you getting SAD 🙂

  4. Amanda Mac says:

    Totally with you there on the Sarah Lund character. And you have given me another Scandi author to follow up. Thanks so much. Great post!

  5. […] Read the original here: Some thoughts on crime fiction in 2012 « CRIME SCRAPS REVIEW […]

  6. Bill Selnes says:

    Happy New Year! I enjoyed Spies in the Balkans and expect you will like the book. The trend to long books started in North America sometime ago. The last book I read, Up Country by Nelson DeMille, was 702 pages long and published in 2002.

  7. Norman Price says:

    Happy New Year everyone.

    Thanks Margot. Real life is quite bleak enough sometimes without the sort of gloom that swamped me reading Dark Angel-Mari Jungstedt, Silenced-Kristina Ohlsson, and Autumn Killing-Mons Kallentoft. I think that is why I enjoyed Spies of the Balkans, a nice ending for once in contrast to real life.

    Thanks Bernadette. I don’t want to break my record with you so have to say that I did not think Aly’s debut was as strong as the next two in the series. I think I was proved right in that number 2 Washington Shadow was nominated for the Ellis Peters, and number 3 Icelight won it. Mind you the first book Maze of Cadiz did get excellent reviews from most people.

    Thanks Amanda. That was an great ending, and it was nice to know that politicians and business people in Denmark are just as self serving as the crew we have in the UK.

    Thanks Bill. Even when I am enjoying a book my enthusiasm wanes when after 400 pages you still have a way to go. It is Spies of Warsaw I am planning to read and Alan Furst manages to keep his books to a reasonable length.

  8. kathy d. says:

    Very good round-up. I agree about the tragic loss of the brilliant, incisive, witty Maxine Clarke, who contributed so much and raised the bar on crime fiction.

    I’ll look forward to new books by the Scandinavian authors you mention, while steering clear of the overly long, dreary and depressing books.

    And I’m glad to see your comments on Spies of the Balkans. I gave this book to a friend for the holidays. He is a fan of spy novels, and his face lit up when he saw this book. I guess I made the right choice and your recommendation validated it.

    Best wishes for good health and crime fiction in 2013, and for the ever-elusive peace and good will in the world.

  9. Norman Price says:

    Thanks Kathy. Very best wishes for 2013 to you. I would be most surprised if your friend does not like Spies of the Balkans.
    They are also televising Spies of Warsaw with David Tennant [Dr Who] in the lead which should be interesting.

  10. A fine and lovely and personalised round up, Norm. All the right notes for 2012. All the best for 2013.

  11. Mrs P. says:

    Just catching up with your retrospective, Norman. Many thanks – you’ve done a grand job of providing an overview of the year (funny, I’d almost forgotten the whole sockpuppetry debacle – must be getting old!). I’m now intrigued by the Erika Schwartz character – I’ll have to chase that one up. She sounds like she might be a little like le Carre’s Connie, who’s one of my favourites.

  12. Norman Price says:

    Thanks very much Rhian; best wishes for 2013.

    Mrs P, I now have the last book in the Milo Weaver trilogy and Erika Schwartz is mentioned in the first two lines, so I am looking forward to getting into that and seeing how her diet is going. She refused a snickers bar at the end of The Nearest Exit. 😉

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