In one of those acts of serendipity that happen from time to time, having just discovered Laura Wilson as an author I then came across her as a critic talking about crime fiction on a recent Guardian Books Podcast. If you haven’t yet discovered these then you have a treat in store. At least once a week The Guardian put out a discussion, normally lasting for about forty-five minutes, on some aspect of the literary world. They pull in all sorts of interesting, often highly distinguished, speakers and frequent open up areas of both fiction and non- fiction that I would never have otherwise thought to explore. I download them for my weekly drive to Stratford and often end up sitting in the car park when I arrive trying to avoid the attendant’s eye as I catch the last few minutes of a fascinating debate.
One of the topics of conversation in this particular episode centred around crime writers of the past and Wilson briefly mention a recent publication edited by John Connolly and Declan Burke as a wonderful resource, referencing novels that had ill-deservedly been forgotten. So, of course, when I got home the first thing I did was to look it up on Amazon and the second thing I did was to buy it.
The premise behind the book is a simple one. The editors have asked over a hundred current writers of crime fiction to choose their favourite crime novel and write about it; to choose just one book that they would fight to see in any list of the canonical works of the genre. These they have then arranged chronologically starting with a discussion by J Wallis Martin of the Edgar Allan Poe’s Dupin Stories and ending with Anne Perry’s advocacy of The Perk by Mark Gimenez. For anyone such as myself who enjoys crime fiction this is a win-win-win situation. I love reading about books – win number one. Some of the books being discussed, such as The Perk, are new to me – win number two. Win number three comes about because some of the contributors, like J Wallis Martin, are authors whose works I’ve not previously encountered. One way and another there are enough suggestions here to keep me reading for the next year or so.
Something that I have found fascinating browsing through the table of content is noting which books my favourite authors have chosen. Andrew Taylor, for example, has written about Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone. How I wish I’d had that available the year our Summer School coupled the Victorian classic with The American Boy, Taylor’s own novel based around the early life of Edgar Allan Poe. Sara Paretsky, who has two of her own works celebrated by other writers, has chosen Dickens’ masterpiece, Bleak House. Kathy Reichs, no stranger to blood and gore herself, opts for Thomas Harris’ The Silence of the Lambs, while both Louise Penny and Margaret Maron choose works by Josephine Tey, the author who apparently amassed the greatest number of advocates.
With the long dark nights drawing in a collection such as this is a priceless discovery. Of course, me being me, I’m promising myself that I will read every book recommended not to mention a selection of works by the authors doing the recommending. I’ll never keep to it. But, with luck I will discover some gems along the way and open up areas of the genre that I’ve perhaps ignored for too long. I might also decide which book I would add to the list. What, I wonder, would your selection be?