Saturday, March 03, 2007

The Crime Writers’ Crime Writer

One of the delights of being involved with the British Crime Writers’ Association (CWA) is that I get to attend the annual Cartier Diamond Dagger Awards celebration, which are traditionally held at the swank Savoy Hotel in London.

I’ve been attending that event (and providing photographs to Shots and the CWA’s Red Herrings Magazine) for quite a while now. And during previous years, that event has served to introduce me to a variety of literary giants, among them Lawrence Block, Ian Rankin, and last year, Elmore Leonard.

But I am particularly looking forward to sharing a glass of champagne this coming May with John Harvey, when he receives the prestigious Diamond Dagger. The commendation has been given out annually since 1986, to mark a lifetime’s achievement in crime writing. The first recipient was Eric Ambler, with subsequent award winners including P.D. James, John le Carré, Dick Francis, Julian Symons, Ruth Rendell, Leslie Charteris, Ellis Peters, Michael Gilbert, Reginald Hill, H.R.F. Keating, Colin Dexter, Ed McBain, Margaret Yorke, Peter Lovesey, Lionel Davidson, Sara Paretsky, and Robert Barnard. Fine company, and Harvey already has in his collection the CWA’s much-coveted Silver Dagger (which he won for his 2004 novel Flesh and Blood), among other international prizes.

In today’s London Times, legal eagle and crime-fiction critic Marcel Berlins uses the occasion of the publication of Harvey’s latest novel, Gone to Ground, to ask why he isn’t better known for his work:
Harvey spent 12 years as a teacher before turning to writing Westerns and pulp fiction, under pseudonyms. “I had this double life. I was making a living writing those kind of books, and at the same time I was writing poetry and I founded a small press, Slow Dancer.” His transition to superior crime novels came in his late forties. “In my early pulp days I wrote excruciatingly bad pseudo-Chandler mid-Atlantic novels. But it didn’t work for me. I thought, I can’t do this. Fortunately, at the time, there was a healthy market for Westerns. Then that dried up.”

Harvey returned to crime writing because of
Elmore Leonard. “I had written a television series about the probation service, set and filmed in Nottingham, with several story-lines, a bit like Hill Street Blues, and I thought maybe I could write a crime novel like that. Round about that time I’d been reading Elmore Leonard books, and two things struck me--the delight you get as a reader, and the presumed delight that he has in writing them. You get a sense almost of joy from his characters. That’s what made me think, I’d like to try to do that, and somehow combine that use of dialogue and lightness of touch with the multi-strand police procedural. Elmore Leonard got me back into crime writing.”
Take it from me, Harvey is a multi-talented wordsmith, writing in many forms. The last time I bumped into him, I told him how much my father enjoyed his BBC Radio adaptation of Paul Scott’s The Raj Quartet. If you haven’t yet been exposed to his fiction, try to do so before May (as good a deadline as any), when the Dagger will fall on this crime writers’ crime writer.

1 comment:

chrisa2711 said...

John Harvey has been one of my favorite writers for about 10 years and it's great to see him getting some well-deserved notice on both sides of the pond. He will be the International Guest of Honor at the Baltimore Bouchercon in 2008 and I'm hoping that this will spark more of my fellow yanks to start reading him.

Chris Aldrich