30 November 2011

The Picador Book of Crime Writing

I took this anthology edited by Michael Diblin from the library shelf on a whim. I often read detective stories but this wasn't quite what I expected.
I was encouraged by the opening statement in the Introduction that it is dedicated "to the proposition that good crime writing is good writing".   A little further on, it is said that when describing a man coming through a door with a gun in his hand, you don't need half a page describing the door!   This statement resonated with me, as did the statement that "...for every writer who pads out a two-hundred -page detective story to twice that length with decorative frills and flounces there are ten whose work might have been written not just on but by a word processor".
Hmm, I have to say that I can think of prize-winning authors (not of detective stories) whose work seems to me sometimes to come into this category.   Diblin appears to agree, as he says "good crime writing has nothing in common with 'fine writing'".   But I'm definitely not an author and certainly not qualified to judge literary merit, so I won't pursue this angle (surely he wouldn't reach the conclusion that 'fine writing' isn't necessarily 'good writing'....?)!
Back to the anthology, it's a collection of more than 50 short stories, by authors ranging from Ernest Hemingway, Oscar Wilde  and C P Snow through to people I hadn't heard of.  Some are extracts from longer works, and some were written as short stories.  If one's view of traditional "crime" writing is about solving crimes (that is "detective stories"), this isn't a book in the traditional mode.  Many stories are about the committing of a murder! In a few, all the circumstances for the commission of a crime exist, but none actually takes place.  There are some police stories, including one where a gang who have committed a robbery is apprehended, based on information provided by an informer.   There are a couple of stories about hangings.   There's a bizarre story about a bomb disposal team deliberately allowing the bomb planted on a criminal to explode.
It's all unpredictable.   Certainly the variety of scenarios covered in itself kept my attention.

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