Wednesday, May 02, 2007

The most influential crime writer ever?

And I don't mean Arthur Conan Doyle; his influence is too remote. Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler are obvious choices, since Hammett influenced Chandler, and Chandler influenced everyone else.

My new dark horse, though, is Ed McBain, author of the 87th Precinct novels, featuring Detective Steve Carella and a cast of many. The manic Sgt. Brant in Ken Bruen's Calibre loves the 87th Precinct books so much that he tries to write one himself. More recently, I've come across this sly and surprising acknowledgment in Kjell Eriksson's The Princess of Burundi:

The Rastafarian locksmith worked on the lock for about thirty seconds. He whistled as he worked and Fredriksson asked him to be quiet.

"Cool," he said. "Are you Sweden's answer to Carella?"

Fredriksson has no idea what he was talking about, but nodded.

Eriksson's book has an ensemble cast, somewhat in the manner of – well, you can guess.

So, the floor is open to you once again, readers. What crime writers have influenced other writers? And what form has that influence taken?

© Peter Rozovsky 2007

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22 Comments:

Blogger Sandra Ruttan said...

I can see the argument for Ed McBain - he's undisputedly had an impact on a lot of crime writers.

As has Ken Bruen...

May 02, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

You've got me interested, Sandra. What has Bruen's impact been on other authors?

May 02, 2007  
Blogger Bill Crider said...

McBain sure enough influenced me, and I mention his books in nearly every Sheriff Dan Rhodes novel. I even got a nice letter from him once.

May 02, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

That's wasn't a bad inducement to take a look at your work. The opening of A Mammoth Murder introduces not just the sheriff, but a bunch of folks from the office and jail. Is that the beginning of a McBain-like ensemble cast?

May 02, 2007  
Anonymous Horst said...

For my money, Ross Macdonald is the writer who took the crime novel to a higher level. Almost everyone writing good books in the genre (by which I mean books that aspire to say something about the human condition) owes a debt to him.

May 02, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

Thanks for the note, Horst. I've never read his novels, just a couple of his short stories, but a note I just consulted talked about the psychological depth he brought to crime fiction. The story "Guilt-Edged Blonde" puts its characters through some changes, all right.

May 03, 2007  
Anonymous Maxine said...

If you are asking "influential", then I'd suggest G K Chesterton, Agatha Christie, Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Wilkie Collins or Dorothy L Sayers (none of which is necessarily a favourite of mine, but influential I think). I think Ken Bruen can hardly qualify as "most influential", surely, in comparison with the above? (Ross McDonald not a bad suggestion, but I'd venture that Chandler or Hammett was more infulential and McDonald followed their lead, excellent though he is).

May 03, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

I should raise the ante for anyone putting forward the names of early writers, say from before World War II. If you name one of those writers, tell what his or her influence was -- for my benefit. From my limited reading of Sayers, for instance, I'd guess that she was one of the first English writers to move out of the village or off the train and set a mystery story in the contemporary business world. Some of the humorous digs at advertising in Murder Must Advertise are thirty-five years ahead of their time, and sharper than similar digs that P.G. Wodehouse was making.

Wilkie Collins, I guess, was one of the first to introduce a detective as a character, but what about Chesterton? Was Father Brown one of the first to use psychology as an investigative tool? As far as Christie is concerned, I'm embarrassed that I could not say what her contribution was, other than to be the most widely popular whodunit writer of all time.

From what little I've read of Ross McDonald, I'd guess that his contribution was also in the realm of psychology, to give everyone his or her reasons for doing what they did. This perhaps makes him a bridge between Chandler on one side and my current Swedish favorites on the other.

In re Bruen, perhaps has influence is now making itself felt on other authors, and we readers will see signs of it in the years to come.

May 03, 2007  
Anonymous Karen C said...

Sure Simenon deserves a mention as well.

May 03, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

I reach for my favorite pipe and consider your reply, your background, your reasons for suggesting Simenon. I consider that, for reasons including Maigret's sympathy for suspects and Simenon's use of setting, you are right.

May 04, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

If Maigret's attitude was one of sympathy, I should add that Simenon seems to have mixed in pity or even a bit of disgust from time to time.

May 04, 2007  
Anonymous Maxine said...

Ah Peter, fair question but you are asking for an essay! I'll give it a go, but not immediately.

May 04, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

Good. That way I'll have not just traffic on my blog, but traffic of high quality!

May 04, 2007  
Blogger Bill Crider said...

My ensemble is somewhat less competent than McBain's, but it's a cast, all right.

May 04, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

Four characters plus discussion of a fifth in the space of a short Amazon reader preview is quite a start. I always associate lots of characters with lots of angst or lots of fun. I suspect your work will come down on the fun side of that divide, which I will look forward to.

And congratulations on the Edgar nomination. That's quite a feather in your cap, or whatever headwear fashionable Texans wear these days.

May 04, 2007  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Sapper with his Bulldog Drummond character influenced Ian Fleming, to create another stiff upper lip British hero, James Bond.
Chandler, and Hammett influenced a host of writers with their mean streets and lonely detectives.
Of course Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo created the European social commentary police procedural. While the classic police procedural Ed McBain 87th precinct stories influenced a host of TV spin offs, Hill Street, NYPD etc.
Then even Patricia Cornwell could be said to have influenced imitators and inspired the CSI franchise.
I think here in the UK Ruth Rendell with Wexford was the main influence for writers who followed with fine series of police procedurals. Her ability to write psychological mysteries alongside the straight police stories took her crime writing into the realms of literature. Others have tried to follow with varying success.

May 06, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

Hvala, Uriah!

Sjowall and Wahloo will be of special interest to me because of my reading these days. One tends to assume Swedish crime novels have always come with a fair dose of social conscience. It is salutary to be reminded that this, like all things, has its origins in history.

What was the state of the British procedural before Ruth Rendell, or did such a tradition even exist? I have read, for example, that English writers were slow to come around to writing about the police because police officers were considered be too low-class to go around investigating and arresting nobles.

Dovidenja!

May 07, 2007  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

The golden age of the class system has not quite gone after all Elizabeth George's Inspector Lynley might be straight out of the 1920's.
Agatha Christie set the scene in writing about amateur detectives from the upper class. The Tommy and Tuppence series is a classic of the period, while being greatly inferior as crime novels to her Miss Marple and Poirot books.

Dorthy L Sayers with her Lord Peter Wimsey character and Gladys Mitchell with Mrs Bradley also created the idea that the talented amateur aristocrat could do better than the police.
I think it was Margery Allingham who first wrote about a policeman Albert Campion, but I have not read any of these and I expect he was an upper class toff.
What amused me about Rendell's Wexford series is his failure to get promotion despite so many succesful cases.

May 07, 2007  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Sorry I got it wrong about Campion he was not a policeman, but lived above a police station.

May 07, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

In re British fictional police and class, T.J. Binyon has some interesting remarks in his excellent and informative Murder Will Out: The Detective in Fiction.

Wexford's failure to win promotion may be a sign of Ruth Rendell's influence. Peter Lovesey's Peter Diamond is just one of many fictional detectives who either have failed to win promotion or are happier to avoid promotion because it lets them keep doing real work. I'm not sure when the first Peter Diamond book came along in relation to the popularity of Wexford.

Perhaps the police station above which Albert Campion lived had flimsy cielings, and some of the police influence leaked through.

May 08, 2007  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

I got mixed up with Ngaio Marsh and her Inspector Roderick Alleyn. But after the four ladies of the Golden Age, Marsh, Allingham, Sayers and Christie came four new British crime writing giants.
Reginald Hill, Colin Dexter, P.D.James and Ruth Rendell have all been put on the small screen with success, but only James and Rendell have been raised to the nobility. Baroness Rendell of Babergh and Baroness James of Holland Park have taken crime writing to new levels of respectability in our House of Lords!

May 08, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

In an idle moment one day, I'd like to think about the golden agers and their successors and what each has added to the detective story -- to think of them not merely as revered names, but to analyze their contributions. Right now, Saayers is the only one for whom I can make even tentative guesses in that direction.

May 09, 2007  

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