Saturday, February 23, 2008


The senior members of the Telegraph's literary staff today presented their 50 greatest crime writers of all time, and then for good measure added Robert B. Parker. The creator of Spenser was then interviewed.

I haven't had time to read the Parker interview but the list contains some incredible omissions. Obviously these lists are constructed to stimulate debate, but make a list that at least pretends you have read more than a smattering of crime fiction.
Remember this was touted as the "50 greatest crime writers of all time", but then I suppose it was chosen by the "senior members of .....the literary staff".
No I must not be unkind or nasty, but Denise Mina and no P.D.James!
Pull the other one it's got bells on.
Benjamin Black, the guy has only written two crime novels, which admittedly, I have not read, but how can you leave out Ken Bruen if you want an Irish writer.
Stieg Larsson, which they spelt Steig, only wrote three books of which one has been translated into English, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. This sits on my shelf unread as yet, but however good it is he surely does not deserve a place over, Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo, Karin Fossum, Fred Vargas, or Arnaldur Indridason, all of whom have a solid body of work.
Robert Crais included over Michael Connelly, Dennis Lehane, John D. MacDonald, Tony Hillerman, Laura Lippman, Peter Temple and Rex Stout, come on let's get real.
William Mcilvanney in and no Colin Dexter or Peter Robinson, absolute nonsense.

And any list of great crime writers that does not include Ross Macdonald has got to be absolute tosh.

Some good inclusions were Andrea Camilleri [of course], Henning Mankell, Reginald Hill, George Pelecanos and Lawrence Block.

I am sure this will stimulate plenty of debate about crime fiction on their forum, which has to be a good thing for the genre. But perhaps they opened a few two many bottles of wine at their lunch, and the suggestion that Robert B. Parker "may be the best crime writer you've never read" makes me feel very old.
They will be spelling Marlowe without the "e" next.


Blogger Kerrie said...

You are right about generating discussion Uriah.
Too many 20th century writers ignored.
In my blog I complain about the unordered nature of the list.
Almost reads "I've got this one on my shelf, therefore it must be good"
Certainly has people talking though

5:28 PM  
Blogger mckie said...

I wish we'd had a lunch. There was a lot of fighting over this, and I agree the absence of Ross MacDonald and Rex Stout is terrible.

But you can't have read McIlvanney. And PD James, Colin Dexter and Tony Hillerman can't write.

6:58 PM  
Blogger Philip Amos said...

Norm, your pithy post is a fine indictment of this ridiculous exercise. This could have been stimulating and fun, but as it is the list is silly, a waste of time, and an insult to readers of crime fiction and of the newspaper. The subhead of the article says they chose their "favourite crime writers of all time", while the first paragraph says this is a list of "the 50 great (sic) crime writers of all time." This is not at all the same thing, so which is it? I think it's firstly a list of authors they had an idea, sometimes rightly, sometimes not, ought to be included: Dickens, Poe, Collins, and then on to the usual Golden Agers -- Knox, Bentley, Christie, Marsh, Carr, Sayers, Allingham. Then they chucked in a few they vaguely remembered enjoying years ago: Crispin, Innes, Gilbert. For most of the rest they seem to have skipped to contemporary authors they happen to have read and liked, and we see that they rather gravitate toward the private investigator, the hard-boiled, and borderline thrillers. In short, I see a mode of 'thought' here: we have to mention those (19th.c); writers on crime fiction always mention these (Golden Age); we vaguely remember enjoying that back in our salad days; and these are the recent ones we ourselves happen to read and enjoyed. And thus, no Rankin, Lovesey, Vargas, Dexter, Barnard...but Thompson, Mina, Larrson, Higgins, Spillane, Grady, Crais, Lawton.... British authors currently writing get very short shrift indeed. Continental writers don't do particularly well, but I was a bit surprised these critical cream-faced loons (thank God for WS at times like this) included any. Two last things. A list of fifty is not long enough for an exercise of this sort -- it wasn't long enough for H.R.F. Keating 20 years ago. And I'm not sure it's a coincidence that all the titles cited are available from Telegraph Books, as they point out at the end.

3:01 AM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

I agree Kerrie.

mckie, that is a very interesting opinion.

4:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There's a danger of taking this kind of list too seriously. It's just a collection of opinions, and no doubt my 'Top 50' would be different from anyone else's. If it encourages the discussion and reading of crime fiction, well and good.

Actually - given that the selection process was no doubt rather similar to Philip's description - I didn't think it was a bad list. Most of the required usual suspects were there (though I agree with Uriah's views about some key omissions), with a good sprinkling of lesser knowns who deserve to be read. I was particularly pleased to see the inclusion of Dan Kavanagh, a personal favourite. And, on the subject of 'literary' novelists who have dabbled in crime, it was pleasing to see the overlooked McIllvanney, who is rather good, and less so the overhyped Benjamin Black (Banville's a fine writer but, in my worthless opinion, he can't do crime).

But, in a list of 50, it's too easy to play the 'who's missing' game - my list would include John Harvey, Peter Temple, maybe Michael Dibdin, Fred Vargas - and probably countless others if I stopped for a moment to think. As for whether individual authors can or can't write - well, that's far too dangerous a minefield for any author to be lured into...

7:15 AM  
Blogger Declan Burke said...

James M. Cain, people. JAMES M. CAIN! Norm - if you're talking Ken Bruen for an Irish writer instead of Benjamin Black (!), how about John Connolly in there too? Cheers, Dec

1:25 PM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Thanks everyone for your comments, I realise there are some very good authors that I have not read, or have forgotten I have read in my salad days.
Clearly 50 was too restrictive as both HF Keating twenty years ago, more recently Jim Huang and Austin Lugar both went for 100 as a figure when they chose their best books selections.

3:34 PM  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

How could I have neglected to compliment you on that handsome photograph of the Telegraph committee that came up with this list?
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

12:45 AM  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

How could I have neglected to compliment you on that handsome photograph of the Telegraph committee that came up with this list?
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

12:45 AM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

That is the definitive board of directors postcard. I bought the postcard in Socorro, New Mexico but feel sure they have been very busy on this side of the pond.
They run very many organisations including the British NHS, American newspapers and many more.

6:45 AM  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Well, a real-life jackass is competent at the work it is supposed to do.

Mark Twain wrote a funny passage about that animal. So unjustly maligned has it been, he wrote, that now, when one calls a man an ass, instead of being proud, he is in some doubt.

In any case, I suspect the folks who run newspapers of affinities with a different animal, one that lives on farms and is not eaten by strict adherents of two of the three major Middle Eastern religions.

Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

11:29 AM  

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