Saturday, April 19, 2008

SEARCHING FOR GREATNESS: MISSING IN ACTION


I discovered that I had read only 39 ot the 50 selections for the Greatest Crime Writers, which is probably why I came up with a my list of those 'missing in action' [see below].


How do we define a great Crime Writer, well my criteria would be that they would:


1) To have written a prolific body of work.

2) To have had a great influence on other writers.

3) To have produced new inventive ideas, or created a new sub genre.

4) To have had a longlasting appeal.

5) To have won a number of crime fiction prizes. [the least important factor]

6) To have invented truly memorable character, or characters.


If these criteria were applied to general fiction would Harper Lee be classified as a great author, or just someone who had written one great book and created a memorable character. I think To Kill a Mocking Bird and Atticus Finch would automatically put her in the great author list. But there is no crime fiction book in that super category, and I think that a large body of work is required to be a great crime fiction writer.

Among the Times selections I would challenge some of the choices as not meeting my criteria.

Are these crime fiction writers really great; Sara Paretsky, Henning Mankell, Ian Rankin, Harlan Coben, Scott Trurow, Michael Dibdin, Minette Walters, and Manuel Vazquez Montalban?


I know I am being a bit hard in the case of Hennig Mankell, but I don't think he is quite as good as Indridason or Nesbo.


Are they any better or had more influence on the crime fiction genre than my first thoughts 'missing in action' list of:

Rex Stout

Lawrence Block

Michael Connelly

James Crumley

Sue Grafton

Laura Lippman

Peter Robinson

Peter Temple

John D. MacDonald

Arnaldur Indridason

Ken Bruen

John Connolly

Jo Nesbo

Robert B. Parker

Donald E. Westlake

and Tony Hillerman?


Perhaps not. Who else have I forgotten?


The debate goes on and we can expect another list from The Rap Sheet soon I hope.

6 Comments:

OpenID maxine said...

All good points, Norm -- I agree that one book doth not a great crime fiction author make. Although these lists are never going to please everyone, I thought that this one wasn't that bad. I agree there are some omissions-- most particularly Arnaldur Indridason who has already been influential and has won the highest awards.
I made a few suggestions over at Petrona earlier today -- not as many as yours but considerable overlap.
An additional problem is the blur between (say) crime and thriller; crime and romance and so on. There are excellent writers in both these genres that did not make it onto the list. Marcel Berlins explains that they excluded thrillers -- so, say, I can see why Lee Child was omitted -- but Peter Temple? Peter James? Where do they fall on the crime/thriller divide, given that Harlan Coben is in?

12:12 PM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

I think you are right Maxine about Arnaldur Indridason and would add that to leave out Rex Stout has to be a travesty.
I suppose I could say the same about Michael Connelly.
I agree this one was quite good as lists go, but someone has to be left out. Perhaps 50 is too large a number and we could all agree on the 10 greatest crime writers?

2:55 PM  
Blogger Kerrie said...

For me the "glaring" omission was that there wasn't one Australian or Canadian author - so I would agree with your inclusion of at least Peter Temple, and probably suggest Fergus Hume (probably what was really a one hit wonder but still apparently the single best seller in crime fiction ever), and Patricia Carlon who really broke new ground as a fore-runner of the whydunnits.
Glauser seems to be an omission of note.
I felt the inclusions might have been influenced by the influence the writer exerted over another media like TV or film.
I also felt not much notice has been taken of newly emergent authors like Louise Penny. It is a very 19th and 20th century list.
But it will provoke discussion and point us to authors we haven't read much of, or at all. e.g. I have requested a Highsmith from the library.

4:22 PM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Thanks for the information I shall have to look up Fergus Hume [The Hansom Cab Murder?] and Patricia Carlon.

4:31 PM  
Blogger Philip said...

It occurs to me, Norm, that your thoughtful list of criteria might be more fitting for establishing that short list of 'greatest' you mention, rather than the 'great'. I am thinking particularly of the requirement of innovation, but even then I have some doubt, particularly as the other criteria have also to be met. In music, the variations written on another composer's theme are often far greater than the theme itself, if you see what I mean. Iles is rightly on that list because of innovation, but that occurs in one, debatably two, of his books. You wouldn't thank me if I recommended you read the others. Influence I think yes, even if only through the example of sheer excellence in variation and complexity, rather than in 'progress' or innovation. I wouldn't put too much stock in prizes -- sports is the only field I can think of that isn't littered with people whose names precede those awful words
"...has once again been overlooked for...". Perhaps prizes could be used to break a tie, but otherwise I think it is dodgy. A substantial corpus (ho ho) most certainly -- at least half a dozen or so, if they are all of the first order? Of course, that would exclude Nesbo,but it would just about allow in Vargas and Indridason, whom I too rank above Mankell.

I really have no patience with this 'greatest' business in any field, let alone actually ranking 50 of them, but Maxine's thoughts on her own blog very much echoed my own. If they have to do it, I thought they made a pretty good fist of it, rankings aside. Very good if you substitute 'great' for 'greatest'. And I've got another fifty 'greats' to go with them. Who's missing? An awful lot by their own criteria, I should say, because I had a lot of reactions along the lines of "If Allingham and Blake, why not Marsh? If Paretsky, why not Grafton? If Burke, why not Parker and Block? If Walters, why not Fyfield? If Cornwell, why not Reichs?" Rather a damning line of thought. The list is MIAs is long indeed if you apply the 'If X...' rule. The absence of Lovesey is egregious, as also Stout. Michael Connelly, Hillerman, Vargas, Indridason, Dickinson, Wetering. Barnard and Robinson when they were at their best, which I don't think they have been for some time. The complete absence of writers of historical crime fiction, even Peters who rather started the whole thing, suggests a blind spot.

Anyway, it is a damn sight better effort than the Telegraph's. Given how they went about it, it will be interesting to see what The Rap Sheet comes up with.

2:54 AM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Philip, you made me take a quick glance at my newspaper copy to check whether they were choosing 50great or greatest crime writers.
The complilation of these lists is rather like sports Halls of Fame that start out with the very greatest and are gradually diluted by players who were only above average.
That is why I admire the exclusivity of the Wolfe Pack's Archie Goodwin Award for lifetime achievement.
I posted about it at:
http://www.nerowolfe.com/htm/neroaward/archie_award/ArchieAwardees.htm

But there are only 4 awardees; Rex Stout [obviously], Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle, Dame Agatha Christie, and last year Dorothy L Sayers, who was nominated ahead of Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Dame Ngaio Marsh and Edgar Allan Poe.

I doubt that in any field there can really be more than about 5 or 6 people who can be classified as greatest, rather than great.

3:23 AM  

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