Saturday, August 13, 2011

Crime writers choose their favorite characters by other crime writers

Does that title make my meaning clear? I don't know if it does, but it's better than the headline on the original article, "Partners in crime fiction," which has nothing to do with the article's intriguing subject: Who are crime writers' favorites among characters created by other writers?

The article appeared last month in the Guardian, and I've just found out about it now, courtesy of the Violent World of Parker blog. Benjamin Black/John Banville picks Richard Stark's Parker, and Lee Child, adding some commercial sheen to Black's literary oomph, proves himself a bit of a wanker before making the excellent choice of Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö's Martin Beck.

Arnaldur Indriðason likes John Le Carré's George Smiley, especially as played on television by Sir Alec Guinness: "Watching him play the detective/policeman/spy by doing as little as humanly possible in the form of acting is pure joy."

Derek Raymond's unnamed protagonist of the Factory novels gets a thumbs-up from David Peace and from one or two readers who commented on the article.  Read the complete list here.

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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28 Comments:

Anonymous kathy d. said...

Can't go wrong with choosing Martin Beck.

Indridason's comment will send me to find Alec Guinness as George Smiley, which I don't think I have seen. Great idea.

August 13, 2011  
Anonymous solo said...

I've only read one Lee Child book (Persuader) which, despite a promising start, was so awful I'd have to gird my loins, don protective clothing and douse myself with holy water before venturing into Lee Child territory again.

Lee Child, adding some commercial sheen to Black's literary oomph, proves himself a bit of a wanker

That's a tantalising comment, Peter. What did he say that proved him to be such a wanker?

August 13, 2011  
Anonymous I.J.Parker said...

My choice would certainly never be Nancy Drew. Offhand, I doubt I've ever read one of those books. I don't believe in YA.

I miss Frost in that list, but then I'm not really surprised.

August 13, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Kathy, I saw some of Smiley
s People
years ago, and, from what I recall, Arnaldur's description is accurate and amusing -- more of that Nordic sense of humor. It also may provice a clue to why he writes the way he does.

August 13, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Solo, you can click on the link in the post to read the entire article. Until then, here's some of what Lee Child wrote:

"My favourite crime series character? Instant temptation to name someone obscure, to prove I read more than you. Second temptation is to go full-on erudite, maybe asking whether someone from some 12th-century ballad isn't really the finest ever . . . as if to say, hey, I might make my living selling paperbacks out of the drugstore rack, but really I'm a very serious person."

August 13, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Well, I.J., it's a pretty short list, so a lot of worthy contenders miss out.

I can well imagine a crime writer having a sentimental attachment to his or her first exposure to mystery, whether that came in the form of Nancy Drew or the Hardy Boys.

August 13, 2011  
Anonymous I.J.Parker said...

That Lee Child quote sounds very tongue-in-cheek, and perhaps also a little diffident. I'm sure he is aware that people don't think him capable of writing serious literature -- or knowing what that is.

I actually like some of his books quite well. Better than most thrillers, and he has a good protagonist. Maybe that's why they asked him about protagonists. A lot of readers would name Reacher as their favorite protagonist.

August 13, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Yes, of course it's tongue-in-cheek, but of a preening, I'm-better-than-you-are sort that probably works better in person than on the page.

I imply no judgment of his books, though, because I haven't read them. And the man obviously has excellent taste in characters.

August 13, 2011  
Blogger Fred said...

I have read all of LeCarre's "Smiley" books.

I agree: LeCarre' must have had Alec Guinness in mind when he created Smiley.

August 13, 2011  
Blogger Susan said...

What a fascinating article! I enjoyed all the responses the writers made, as I've read most of their mysteries, and it was an insight into what they bring to their own writing. I agree with most of what they say, too. I loved Father Brown, Wil Graham is dreadfully fascinating, Le Carre is among the best, I grew up reading all of Nancy Drew! I'm just starting the Martin Beck series, and I have just started collecting the Hill and Lloyd series to read. This was like a little who's who of what to read for mystery readers, wasn't it?

I am surprised that no one mentioned Agatha Christie, or Sherlock Holmes, though again this article was on the writers' favourite character, not the writer that influenced them most.

August 13, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Fred, I came across Smiley's People years ago when flipping channels. I still remember Guinness' face, which my memory tells me was filling the screen.

August 13, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Susan, the Guardian's introduction was sketchy about exactly the authors were asked, and that may be good. It was interesting to note that some authors provided favorite characters, while others seem to have named characters who most influenced them or caught their imaginations earliest -- Nancy Drew, for example.

August 13, 2011  
Anonymous solo said...

Instant temptation to name someone obscure, to prove I read more than you. Second temptation is to go full-on erudite, maybe asking whether someone from some 12th-century ballad isn't really the finest ever . . . as if to say, hey, I might make my living selling paperbacks out of the drugstore rack, but really I'm a very serious person

Yes, of course it's tongue-in-cheek, but of a preening, I'm-better-than-you-are sort that probably works better in person than on the page

I didn't think he was preening, Peter. I thought he was taking a swipe at what he considers the typical critic, someone who cannot resist the desire most of us have to sound hipper and better informed than other people.

In the same article Laura Wilson recommends the unreasonably neglected Gerald Kersh. Have you read him, Peter? I read his 1957 book Fowlers End a while back and thought it was a terrific piece of comic writing. I've seen it advertised on Amazon.co.uk as an ebook for 86 pence and on Mobipocket for $1. Now that's what I call a bargain.

August 13, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Solo. I haven’t read Gerald Kersh. I’d say he sounds worth a look. Lee Child would probably accuse you (and Laura Wilson) of typically critical snobbery for choosing a neglected author, though.

August 13, 2011  
Blogger Kiwicraig said...

It's an interesting question - and one I've been asking authors I interview for the past two years or so, including as part of the 9mm series on Crime Watch - from more than 50 authors I've spoken to, ranging from big names like Child, Billingham, McDermid, Connelly, etc to lesser-knowns and Kiwi crime writers, there was a huge range of favourite characters from other authors - but the one that has been mentioned the most so far is Dave Robicheaux by James Lee Burke...

August 13, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Craig: Good thing James Lee Burke has enjoyed critical and reasonable popular success. Otherwise he might run the risk of being labelled a writer's writer.

August 13, 2011  
Blogger Fred said...

Peter,

I'm not surprised, as there were a considerable number of closeups on Guinness. He can convey more with a raised eyebrow or a slight lift of the corner of his mouth than most actors can do with ten minutes of dialogue.

August 14, 2011  
Blogger Fred said...

Gerald Kersh? a neglected mystery writer?

He's also a neglected SF writer, which is why I'm familiar with him.

August 14, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

After Guinness died, I read his modest declaration that he realized he was no Olivier or Richardson, and so concentrated on movies and television. His effectiveness in close-ups is a sign that he adapted well to those media.

August 14, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

He was versatile if he could be neglected in two genres.

August 14, 2011  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

There are some fantastic authors and characters listed here, some of whom I have never heard of and will track down.

Several British authors and series I hadn't heard of until now.

Liked Sara Paretsky's description of a British woman character who was an anti-fascist undercover agent.

August 17, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I agree. This list was a cut or two above the typical run of such lists. Some of the authors made interesting choices and offered interesting reasons for making them.

August 17, 2011  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

It puts me in awe of how much of a world of mystery fiction is out there -- but then a bit wistful, as I know even were I to read 24/7 for 10 years, suspend sleep, tasks, errands, I would not catch up.

And then, of course, there would be a lot more books to read within that 10 years.

August 17, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I'm constantly in awe at how much I don't know and have not read.

August 17, 2011  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

True. It seems that the more one knows about, the less one has read in the overall scheme of things.

That list of characters, books and authors pleasantly surprised me. It has so much that was new to me, that first I realized (some of) what I didn't know, but then thought there are a lot of new reading adventures, if I ever have time, i.e., a year in which to just read mysteries.

August 22, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Not at all a bad list, unlike the Times (of London) list that ranked Ian Rankin four places ahead of Dashiell Hammett on the list of greatest crime writers of all time.

August 22, 2011  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

Not that isn't right.

I just added Hammett to Margot Kinberg's wonderful blog, under a post where a discussion was going on about mystery authors with minimalist writing styles.

August 23, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

It's insane! And I'll look in on that discussion. Thanks.

August 23, 2011  

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