I’m in the middle of writing another book just now, the follow up to Rebellion’s Message, in which the often confused Jack Blackjack continues to try to escape a fresh series of tribulations in the early part of Bloody Mary’s reign.
It got me thinking about what it is that really appeals to me about writing crime.
I think that crime and thriller stories are about the most perfect ways to look at society. Often you will find ‘serious’ literary authors waxing lyrical about their works because they are looking at society and analysing it, so they say, through the prism of their characters’ eyes.
Well yes. That is the point of any kind of novel. However when you pick up a crime story, you will find characters living through the most extreme experiences any human can imagine. You will also be looking at things from many points of view. I’ve a love of the classic crime books of the 1920s and 30s, but I also like the Michael Connelly stories set in Las Vegas and Los Angeles. They give me a view of contemporary American life that I don’t find in many other books. Connelly can take the reader through to the millionaires’ mansions and back to the slums in a blink. In that he’s become a modern Chandler, showing the rich and the poor to best – and worst – effect.
But he is not alone, of course. My friends Quintin Jardine and Ian Rankin are masters when it comes to describing modern Scottish life – and violence. Then there are the satyrical writers like Ruth Dudley Edwards, who pricks the pomposity of the wealthiest in this country (and the US) with her ruthless wielding of a very blunt instrument in the shape of her character Baroness Troutbeck. Brilliant thriller writers like Caroline Carver (and you really should read her latest book, Spare Me The Truth) and the less well-known but superb Russell James, deserve much more recognition.
Especially too often neglected, I have to say (I would, wouldn’t I), is the small but growing cohort of historical writers. Susanna Gregory, Bernard Knight and Karen Maitland are all established authors, but there are many others who are competing for this market, from AJ MacKenzie to AL Berridge, Anthony Riches, Ben Kane and the others who are so steeped in the periods they depict that it is often difficult to find them without armour. When you read Ruth Downie, it is clear that she has a detailed understanding of life in Roman Britain, but also that she has studied how doctors worked, how cooks fared, how mixed marriages affected people and much more besides. Historical writers have so much to investigate, analyse, and absorb so as to give their works the immediacy that a thriller novel needs.
With all of these superb, imaginative, inventive authors, the reader will learn about history, how people viewed politics, politicians, businessmen, bankers and the poor. They’ll learn how the unwell were treated, how villains were caught, what the prisons were like (not nice) and much more besides. In my own books I’ve looked at rebellion, civil war, treatment of lepers, how people viewed bull bating and cruelty to women and children. In fact, I cannot think of any major modern issue that I haven’t covered, except perhaps people trafficking.
I suppose that all means, it’s less surprising that crime writing appeals to me; it’s much more surprising that more people don’t take it up!