Some sensible words about crime fiction and a question for readers
James Fallows’ recent posting on The Atlantic’s Web site, though, held my interest, and not just because he singled out some crime novelists whose work I especially enjoy. No, what makes Fallows’ essay stand out is that he bases his assessment on the actual experience of reading the books:
“I've figured out a way to tell the books I can feel good about reading from the ones I should wean myself from. The test is: can I remember something from the book a month later – or, better, six months or a year on. This is the test I apply to `real' fiction too: surprisingly often, a great book is great because it presents a character, a mood, a facet of society, a predicament that you hadn't thought of before reading the book but that stays with you afterwards. Rabbit Angstrom, Captain Ahab, and Clyde Griffiths (of An American Tragedy), to choose the first three examples that pop into my mind from American fiction.Among the crime novels that Fallows says meet that standard are Janwillem van de Wetering’s early “Amsterdam Cops” books (though he cites an odd reason for liking them, and he misspells van de Wetering’s name), and Inspector Imanishi Investigates by Seicho Matsumoto.
“I say that `genre' fiction, like spy and crime novels, ascends into the `real' fiction category when the world it presents can exert the same tenacious hold on your mind.”
I agree with those choices, and I would add a few that present “a character, a mood, a facet of society, a predicament that you hadn't thought of before reading the book but that stays with you afterwards”: Yasmina Khadra’s novels about life in war-torn 1990s Algeria, the delicious social comedy of Bill James’ middle-period Harpur & Iles novels, and perhaps the yearning hope and despair of Jean-Claude Izzo’s Marseilles trilogy.
OK, readers, what crime writing does the same thing for you? From which books can you “remember something from the book a month later – or, better, six months or a year on”? (Hat tip to Sarah Weinman.)
© Peter Rozovsky 2007