This is the third in the author’s guides to contemporary crime fiction, following on from Nordic Noir (2013) and Euro Noir (2014). This, the Pocket Essential Guide to the Crime Fiction, Film & TV of the British Isles, looks at the state of crime fiction in the UK more or less since the turns of the millennium, which is especially welcome for readers like myself often stuck into the Golden Age past. However, to get one cavil out of the way, the author makes it clear that he uses the term Noir synonymously with ‘crime’ when it comes to fiction. I don’t think this is quite right, but you need to know this so as to not get confused by the inclusion of such cosy authors as Caroline Graham and Simon Brett. OK, so, cracking on …
Don’t forget to check put the submissions today for Friday’s Forgotten Books meme run by Patti Abbott at her fab Patinase blog.
“It might be argued that the low esteem in which British crime writing was held for so many years allowed it to slowly cultivate a dark subversive charge only fitfully evident in more respectable literary fare.”
With this opening salvo, Forshaw seeks to provide a detailed if compact guide to the currently very healthy state of crime fiction writing in Britain today and suggest at least one reason why it has emerged out of the shadows blinking into the critical twilight only of late. If that seems like a lofty ambition for a medium-sized paperback (not to mention it being built on a thesis that, to my mind, is very much relying on ‘facts’ not properly entered into evidence, ahem), I’m glad to say that this is a little book with a quite considerable reach. And it’s not all that little either, as at 226 pages this is by far the longest of the three Noir guides so far and is packed with useful information and expert views on contemporary authors. Even with the expanded word count though, Forshaw has limited himself to authors who are alive and practising, meaning that even such recently departed practitioners as Ruth Rendell, PD James, Robert Barnard and Reginald Hill, are not included. Having said that, just what Julian Barnes’ one-time alter ego ‘Dan Kavanagh’ is doing here, and in a fairly substantial entry that is more that double that allocated to say Peter Lovesey, given that all four of those books were published in the 1980s, in anybody’s guess!
The guide is broken down into various geographic regions (including Scotland, Wales and Ireland) but as Forshaw makes clear, this cannot be applied consistently in the case of authors who have spread their net widely across the UK or who set their work in fictional parts of the country. What we end with therefore is a book that can be read straight through if you wish, and which that way can be of useful in drawing connections as we move from one author to a potentially linked other (for instance following Lee Child with John Connolly, as examples of British authors who set their work convincingly overseas). However, as the author himself recommends, it may be best to read this work using the index as your primary way in. If the result can therefore be a tad chaotic (even within the regional grouping, the authors are not presented in an alphabetical order, precisely so that occasional connections can be made), it is never haphazard – we are never in any doubt that Forshaw, who after all known more about crime fiction that you can shake a policeman’s helmet at, really knows his stuff and I now have dozens of new authors I want to try (who knew that Gregory’s Girl star John Gordon Sinclair was now a crime novelist?)
The last section of the book, devoted to recent film and TV, is the only part that to me feels too scanty. While omissions are inevitable, some are just peculiar – why focus negatively on Ray Winston’s cliche-ridden The Trials of Jimmy Rose and not include his far superior private eye show Vincent instead? Why include River, and get distracted by the Scandi casting of Stellan Skarsgård and completely ignore not only its debt to home-grown author Dennis Potter but also its extraordinary co-star Nicola Walker? Not to mention completely omitting the superior cop show she was starring in at exactly the same time (on a different channel), the hugely popular Unforgotten? But then, perhaps this just reflects my own knowledge and prejudices, as much as this volume rightly, of course, privileges those of the author. Ultimately this doesn’t greatly detract from a volume that provides a very handy overview and one I’m sure I will ant to keep dipping into on a regular basis.