Crime Fiction and Crime Writing Today - Opinion Essay
Profile at MysteryNet.com: "Under New Manaagement" by Susan Moody
Mystery is on the menu! For those of you who have not yet tasted our delights, come on in, order something and settle down to enjoy yourself.
Imagine that new owners have just done up the sleazy neighbourhood coffee bar. Instead of the tacky formica-topped table, the slightly sticky floor, the dirty coffee-machines and the plates encrusted with something you really don't want to examine too closely, they turn it into the restaurant you've been searching for all you life. Imagine not just the tasteful new decor, but wide-ranging and constantly changing menus, dawn-fresh high-quality ingredients, a cuisine both original and inventive, and service which is not only friendly but impeccable. And on top of all this, it doesn't cost you an arm and a leg.
As if, you may say. Such miracles don't happen. Not today. Not in the late 1990s. And OK, so maybe you're right. But what if you were to switch all those desirable elements from the gastronomic to the literary? What would you get then?
Contemporary crime fiction is what.
Forget what you may have heard about it in the past. Formulaic plots, tired old cliches, stock characters, standard-issue dialogue. Things have changed. And what makes today's crime fiction so exciting is that it operates beneath such a wide umbrella. Some years ago, as Chairman of the Crime Writers Association of Great Britain, I edited a book called the Hatchard's Crime Companion. This was a list of the top one hundred crime novels of all time, as chosen by the members of the CWA. I found that there were so many kinds of crime fiction, all active and breathing, that in the questionnaire I sent out to all members, I had to limit the categories to ten. Ten! Can you think of any other form of fiction that could afford such generosity? But then our books are generous, our menu is wide ranging.
And the service we provide, the quality of our writing, the depth of our characterization, the originality of plotting, the breadth of knowledge we display, the subtlety with which we arrange our ingredients when setting our dishes in front of you-all are genuinely breathtaking.
Let's take a closer look at just one of those dishes: the cosy. Although I don't class myself as a cosy writer, in my Cassandra Swann series, I certainly use some of the traditional cosy ingredients: namely a Cotswold setting, an amateur sleuth, rural rather than urban concerns. Despite the continuing popularity of the cosy, there has recently been some debate in England about its validity, especially among writers of the school of self-styled dirty realism. They complain that cosy writers treat of an idealised middle-class world which has nothing to do with contemporary society and that the only real crime writing deals with urban society and urban problems. One journalist described this as a battle between the Blue Rinses and the Leather Jackets, but I dispute this. There is no battle: you might as well say that a recipe containing aubergine won't be any good because you personally don't like aubergine. Crime is as endemic to the village as it is to the town, and I believe that the manifestations of social change, and contemporary crime are made more vivid by being shown against the once-idyllic setting of a Cotswold utopia. By demonstrating, in fact, how very far from utopian contemporary country life can be. And after all, human nature remains much the same wherever you are. There is a much passion seething, as much incentive to murder, in a stone-built village as there is in some high-rise block in the slums of Nottingham.
So, for those of you who have not yet tasted our delights, come on in, order something and settle down to enjoy yourself.
THE CASSANDRA SWANN MYSTERIES
Death Takes a Hand, 1993 by Susan Moody
Grand Slam, 1994 by Susan Moody
King of Hearts, 1995 by Susan Moody
Doubled in Spades, 1996 by Susan Moody
THE PENNY WANAWAKE MYSTERIES
Penny Black, 1984 by Susan Moody
Susan Moody began writing crime in 1984, with Penny Black, the first of the Penny Wanawake crime novels featuring the statuesque photographer daughter of a black United Nations diplomat in England.
In 1993, the first of her Cassandra Swann series featuring an English bridge instructor, Takeout Double (U.S. title: Death Takes a Hand), was published.
Susan Moody spent two years as Creative Writing Tutor in Her Majesty's Prison, Bedford. She is a past Chairman of the British Crime Writers' Association and is currently on the CWA Committee. She is also a member of the prestigious Detection Club and was recently elected the President of the International Association of Crime Writers. She currently lives in Oxford, England.