Saturday, February 23, 2008

But What About …?

The proliferation of books and cheesy magazine articles about “things you must do before you die” is starting to become epidemic. Now comes the UK’s Telegraph with an article destined to drum up heated debate in the blogosphere: “Fifty Crime Writers to Read Before You Die.” Explains the newspaper:
After a debate that left senior members of the Telegraph’s literary staff with pulled hair, black eyes and, in one case, an infected bite, we this week present our list of the 50 great crime writers of all time.

We present them in no particular order, and make no apology for our omissions. But we would like to know what you think. Should Ellery Queen have been two of the names on the list? Hate [Patricia] Highsmith? Log on, or write in, and say so.

We wanted to compile a list of writers we had, jointly and severally, loved. We wanted to include writers like Dash Hammett, who brought something new and exciting to the genre; like Elmore Leonard, who turns an old trick in it with incomparable style; and like [Edgar Allan] Poe, who invented it. We did not, except incidentally, take into account popularity.

Who, we asked ourselves finally, are the crime writers who can actually write? We believe any serious reader will profit from acquaintance with any of the writers on this list.
I’ve taken a long, hard look at this list. There are of course many stalwarts of the genre (Arthur Conan Doyle, Ed McBain, Ruth Rendell, Mickey Spillane) who are included. And thankfully, the Telegraph folks didn’t feel the need to arrange these names in some ridiculous countdown order. It’s just a list of 50 wordsmiths (or 51, if you include the “bonus interview” with Robert B. Parker). But what will set off arguments here is who isn’t on the list. Why in the world, for instance, are Dennis Lehane, Ross Macdonald, and James M. Cain absent? And what about P.D. James, or John Harvey, or Michael Connelly? Certainly, all of them belong on any roster of crime writers who ought to be read, and read often. But I was at least pleased to see that Stieg Larsson, author of the amazing new novel The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo made the Telegraph’s cut.

Do you have other thoughts about this list of 50 writers? Leave a comment below, or join the debate at The Telegraph’s Web site.

READ MORE:Controversy from the Telegraph,” by Uriah Robinson (Crime Scraps).


Jack Getze said...

I bet Dennis Lehane is happy to be left out. Crime writer is not how he sees himself.

Anonymous said...

Any list of this sort that rates Stieg Larsson higher than Michael Connelly -- much less the indispensable Ross Thomas -- is clearly a gag.

Dana King said...

I agree completely about Lehane, Macdonald (even though I'm not a huge fan, I appreciate his contribution) and Cain. Michael Connelly is good, but hasn't really moved things forward (and can be awfully dry).

I failed to find Chester Himes and John Connolly. Himes wrote as tight and sparse as anyone; I doubt Walter Mosely would have come as he has had not Himes come first. John Connolly has added a supernatural element to the genre without losing any of its grit and realism.

Ali Karim said...

And I forgot to query the lack of Thomas Harris - though not prolific, his "Red Dragon" and "The Silence of the Lambs" certainly are definative - and worthy of a mention


Anonymous said...

They picked weird books for Block and Pelecanos. I'd have picked The Devil Knows You're Dead for Block and Hard Revolution for Pelecanos.

The lack of Connolly and Ken Bruen is stunning. Don Winslow is missing too, and he deserves it for (but not only) Power of the Dog.

Linda L. Richards said...

And would it have been so much to ask to have the estrogen level a little higher? I personally don't think much of duMaurier, but many do and it could be argued that Rebecca was somewhat seminal. (Hmmm... maybe not the right word in this context, but...)

Equally seminal but for very different reasons is Sue Grafton. It does not matter if you love or hate her books, it can not be argued that a whole lot would not be possible if she hadn't forged that path.

And Lippman. Of course. It's a bit soon to be calling her literary contributions "classic" but we will. And I expect it will be sooner than later.

Anonymous said...

What The Dead Know assures her place, I think. I'm not a huge Tess fan, but that book was stunning.

I'd be tempted to put Megan Abbot on there, as well as the lesser known Sarah Gran and Vicki Hendricks.

And this is probably just me, but William Lashner.

Anonymous said...

Wait, where the hell is James Crumley on there? C'MON!

Kerrie said...

I think it shows as much about the reading habits of the contributors as it does about noted contributions to the genre.
I've blogged about the way it is listed - designed to make it hard to digest?? - also it includes about 10 authors writing before World War I, and 9 books from the 21st century.

Uriah Robinson said...

I think the contributors just set out to be controversial, no Rex Stout and no Ross Macdonald is frankly ludicrous.
One has even commented to me that P.D.James can't write, so they are trying to annoy crime fiction aficianados on both sides of the Atlantic.
You also can't include Henning Mankell and Stieg Larsson while omitting the parents of the Swedish police procedural Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo.

Barbara said...

I love the way the Telegraph says "we make no apologies for this" and then invite readers to kick out one of the 8 women on the list.


I'm not saying there should be a quota, but good lord. That's frankly systemic sexism.

And then - THEN - to say "you've probably never heard of Robert Parker." Okay, you've just proved your total lack of credentials, dudes.

Sandra Ruttan said...

One thing I think everyone has to consider is that the Telegraph is a UK paper.

That means that their selection would be largely influenced by British reading habits. I don't believe Laura Lippman has ever been nominated for a Dagger - something I find appalling - but it speaks to some of the names not on the list. It is more reasonable to point to British writers who didn't make the list and question that. Having been to conventions in the UK and the US there are some authors very popular in one country who are not well known in the other. Last I knew, Cornelia Read didn't have a UK book deal - it's entirely possible Abbott and Gran don't either.

It is therefore understandable that Ruth Rendell, Frances Fyfield (a lovely person), Agatha Christie, Denise Mina and Dorothy L Sayers are on the list.

It's more reasonable to question the absence of Val McDermid, PD James (did I really not see her name?), Kate Atkinson and others with a more formidable UK presence.

It isn't surprising authors such as Bruen aren't on the list, as they don't have the same UK market influence as they do in the US.

And no Ian Rankin? Clearly not a list to be taken seriously.

Anonymous said...

I think the main post of lists like this is to prompt discussion (and possibly controversy). So I'm all in favor of it -- it gets us talking about authors, which is always a good thing.

Was Dick Francis on the list? (I can't remember.) If not, he should be.

Sandra Ruttan said...

It would be interesting to see a US publication do a list like this and then compare.

Barbara said...

I'm not sure if Robert Parker is well known in the UK, but I'd be a little surprised if he were a secret, given his regular appearance on US bestseller lists that nobody bothered to market him in the UK.

And I just noticed all of the people who created the list are men. Unless "Sam" is short for Samantha.

I admit, when I pick my personal top ten books of the year, male authors tend to predominate. In 2007, only two of my ten were by women. But I'm only saying what I liked, not what others should read before they die.

And another thing that goads me: these are not chosen for popularity but are by crime fiction writers who can "actually" write.

How snide is that use of "actually"? Like, this is so rare?

Anonymous said...

Have to chuckle over the Telegraph's misspelling of Spenser in the sub-headline...