I had a 'thinking' day yesterday mostly during the two and a half hours I spent in my car dealer's showroom while the service department dealt with a very sick Nissan Micra. That whirring noise turned out to be a wheel bearing and not a hole in the exhaust system. The good news was that it was covered by an extended warranty but the realisation that I had been driving round half of Southern England with my granddaughter in the car and something wrong with my wheels was a bit frightening.
Over at the always entertaining Crime Always Pays famous father of Princess Lilyput, Declan Burke had posted a plea to bloggers that 'crime fiction deserves the kind of dynamic, rigorous, extensive and constantly evolving critical work that the interweb is perfectly placed to provide.' He then gave us example from the fine analytical work of Glenn Harper at International Noir.
'Anything with retractable wheels?'
'No....nor anything with machine guns. I've put in the hours, but I am an amateur.' Second Violin:John Lawton
Although the garage told me I almost had some experience with 'retractable wheels' I am definitely an amateur critic. I read Sapper and Buchan for the excitement and missed all the jingoism, racism and anti-semitism. I read Sjowall and Wahloo before they were cool and missed a lot of the Marxist exposure of capitalism's total failure. I am frequently bored by what passes for literary crime fiction and is in reality pretentious waffling. Which is probably what I am doing now.
What do we want when we read a crime fiction novel?
I want to be entertained, educated, teased with a good plot, made to think, and provided with memorable characters whose future or past exploits I want to explore. It is that simple.
The masters of the Golden Age, who critics are inclined to look down on now in fact usually managed two or three out of the five. I recently read a so called spy thriller from a new author that managed only one out of five. I was 'made to think' and thought when is this dreadful book going to end. [a review will appear in due course on Euro Crime]
But then you read a novel like Second Violin which scores five out of five with a heady mixture of humour, history, social commentary, sexual entanglements, wonderful characters and sheer entertainment and you realise that this is great fiction. The literary establishment might say it 'transcends the genre' whatever that means but I would say in the words of John Lawton's character Billy Jacks , the cockney Jewish tailor from Stepney who happened to born in Danzig, that it is a bloody good read.