Saturday, September 23, 2006

Britons are from Christie, Americans are from Chandler?

In my opening post, I praised Janwillem van de Wetering's Amsterdam Cops novels while acknowledging that they may be stronger on character than on plot. A British reader responded that she was no big fan of the one book in the series she had read, and she said she valued good plots over good characters and was a big fan of puzzle mysteries. That plays into the old commonplace of British readers preferring the classic, elaborately plotted whodunnit, (North) Americans the atmospheric urban P.I. story. So, here's my question for the day: Does that distinction retain any validity in these violent and hilarious days of Bill James, Ian Rankin and Charlie Williams? Do British readers and writers tend to value a well-plotted fair-play story more than their American counterparts?

Here's another question of the day: Who are the European (or Asian, African, South American or Australian) counterparts of the American "regular guy" (or regular girl) detectives? I mean American series characters such as Les Roberts' Milan Jacovich, Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum, and Joseph Hansen's Dave Brandstetter. The first is a divorced father, the second a zany single woman, the third a gay man, but they share a number of characteristics: They have quirks, but not pathologies. They worry, but they don't brood. There's not an alcoholic or a psychological cripple in the bunch. And add Stuart Kaminsky's Abe Lieberman to the list. He has family problems, but the man is happily married.

The only comparable European character I can think of -- a character whose personal life is an important part of the story and who is still sane and balanced -- is Helene Tursten's Detective Inspector Irene Huss. Can you think of any others?

© Peter Rozovsky 2006

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

My answer to question 1 (a and b). I don't know if I am typical but I am British. I don't mind either style of book so long as it is well written and carries you along. I enjoy some laconic books and some convoluted ones.

My answer to question 2. Debi Alper's Nirvana Bites has similarities to Evanovitch. Sarah Dunant wrote some detective books featuring Hannah Wolfe but has moved genres now. I am never very sure if Deborah Crombie is a British or a US author, but her series is set in the UK and features Gemma someone, who is a police detective but the stories focus on her personal life too and she isn't neurotic. Peter James' first two feature Inspector (?) Grace, who is in the normal range. I'm sure there must be loads of others, you need to get CrimeFicReader over at It's a Crime! onto this, she's very well informed. Val McDermid is perhaps the nearest person in Britain outside Rankin on your list to a best-selling big-name US crime fiction author; she writes some series and some stand-alones, and I'd say that many of her characters fit your bill.

September 24, 2006  
Blogger Euro Crime said...

I'm one of the few Brits who don't enjoy the Stephanie Plum books. Liz Evans, is always mentioned as the UK's equivalent. The one book of hers I've read was better plotted and funnier than the 3 Plum books I read - I kept wondering what I was missing!! Most of my reading group love her books.

I haven't read Tursten yet but I did finish the new Anne Holt book and by what you've written, I think you might find that similar.

The book I've just finished, Footfall, by Christine Poulson features a 40ish successful academic juggling a career and baby in Cambridge. There's a lot about her homelife but it fits in neatly with the plot and there's only a limited amount of suspects for the murderer too :-).

Perhaps surprisingly, given my website, I'm rather late to reading British crime fiction, having read US fiction for years. I haven't yet read Rankin and only this year read a John Harvey.

Look forward to seeing more learned responses than mine!

September 24, 2006  
Blogger Peter said...

One should always be wary of broad cultural generalizations. In any case, there's so much cultural cross-fertilization going on these days. And the concept of influence can be over-rated. Who's to say, for example, that Ian Rankin or Ken Bruen owes anything to American writers just because they write about violence in cities. (I have to think, though, that Bruen read or at least knew about Ed McBain before he wrote the Brant and Roberts books.)

Thank you both for that pile of new names. I'll keep all those writers (and that blogger) in mind. A book called Nirvana Bites is definitely worth looking into. And If Liz Evans is funnier than Evanovich, she must be funny. I laugh out loud when I read the Plum books. The funniest set-pieces are Stephanie's grandmother acting up -- and Stephanie's father reacting to the grandmother. It's interesting to learn that Evanovich is popular in the U.K., too.

Judging from the four Plums I've read, I'd say Evanovich is more than just funny. The opening of the first Plum reads like a dizzy Jane Austen. And the Trenton-in-the-summer-is-a-pizza-oven opening to the fourth packs so much humor (humour, to you good folks over there) and description into a few words. The woman can write.

Interesting also that you found Evans better plotted than Evanovich. I find the Plum books stronger on character and description and incident than on plot.

In addition to domestic responsibilities and murder, Tursten deals with social issues, as all Sweish crime writers seem to do. There's a lot going on. (I read recently than another Tursten had been or was about to be published in English translation.)

September 24, 2006  
Blogger Euro Crime said...

I didn't mind 'One for the Money' and I liked some of the minor characters but not enough to carry on past 3.

The new Tursten is called 'The Torso' and has been out a couple of months now, both sides of the pond. It's in my library book tbr :-).

You might also consider Ake Edwardson. I've not read 'Sun and Shadow' yet but I'm told that the main character's personal life features heavily, rather more than in 'Never End', which I have read.

September 24, 2006  
Blogger Peter said...

This is quite a coincidence, but I just picked Sun and Shadow out of my "to read" pile not half an hour ago. I knew nothing about the book or its author, but the owner of my friendly neighborbood used-book store/cafe recommended it a while back.

So, now I have Arjouni, Khadra, Matti Joensuu and Ake Edwardson on my immediate to-read list -- as soon as I get done with the browsing I'll need to do for my next post.

P.S. I'll be ln London on vacation in a little while. Perhaps a few of us could meet for lunch or coffee or tea or drinks somewhere near Charing Cross Road.

September 24, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I used to love Janet Evanovich, but found her books progressively less interesting so that now I don't read them at all. (no. 10 was a slight improvement on the previous few but not enough to make me read more). I think the first couple were laugh-out loud funny, especially Grandmother Mazur and Lola, but now they seem mechanical.

John Harvey is a very good suggestion, I have read all 10 Resnick books and enjoyed them a lot. Resnick is of Polish origin and lots of foody stuff if you are into that as I think you seem to be? Harvey ended the Resnick series at 10 and has now started a new series, of which I've read the first. I enjoyed that too - about a retired police detective. I'd recommend both series.

September 27, 2006  
Blogger Peter said...

I found your post just when I was about to shut my computer and go to sleep. With Blogger's extreme slowness tonight, I may never get to bed.

I'm not a foodhead, per se. I just find the food emphasis a special surprise when it occurs in crime fiction. It's an aspect of setting, you might say. Some Spanish, Italian and, from the one example I've read, Cuban writers make food and its preparation and eating prominent parts of their stories, whereas crime writers from other countries do not. I mean, Rankin's John Rebus or Henning Mankell's Kurt Wallander are not about to prepare any gourmet meals for themselves. Nor is Stephanie Plum, for that matter.

I read one John Harvey story, "Chance," in The Best British Mysteries 2005. It was very different from most, hardly a crime story in the conventional sense. Rather, it's about one character's descent and eventual death, and the ripple effect that death has on the point-of-view character's life. It was unusual enough a story to make his novels an intriguing possibility --if Harvey can just avoid sliding into somber and portentous epiphany.

P.S. Any tips for making sure my blog and its posts show up on Google searches? Thanks

September 27, 2006  
Anonymous crimeficreader said...

Hi Peter, thanks for the invite to comment on this thread elsewhere, but I really didn't have enough knowledge of the mentioned authors to do so!
However, I do have some tips on coming up in Google searches that someone very kindly passed on to me. I recently sent them to someone else who has started a blog. I have little time right now, I'm afraid, but I can paste and send them to you at the weekend, I hope (ongoing family commitments in low grade crisis management!). Should I use your Philly Inquirer email addy?
Finally, when exactly will you be in London?

September 27, 2006  
Blogger Peter said...

Yikes, did my Philly Inquirer addy wind up here somewhere? You could use that, but I'd prefer that you use the address that you should be able to get directly off my blog: And thanks.

Knowledge, schmoledge! Go read some of these authors if you find them intriguing. That's part of the fun of blogging, I think. I am about to go look for my first Peter Temple books, thanks to suggestions from you and another reader.

I will be in London three weeks from this weekend.

September 27, 2006  

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