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August 30, 2004


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Jenny D

Thank you for this excellent and varied set of recommendations! I love Scottish fiction. I'm printing out your post and taking it with me to the library later this evening. Esp. excited to check out Paul Johnston who sounds just my cup of tea. Obviously Ian Rankin is great; and I've very much enjoyed Louise Welch, Denise Mina, Manda Scott. Iain Banks is my absolute favorite--I think I've read almost all of his books now, though missing a few of the SF ones. He and Irvine Welsh should definitely be counted for the crime-writing team; and what about Alan Warner's Morvern Callar? (Quintin Jardine's novels I find almost unreadable, I'm afraid to say.) Also, wouldn't you count a few of Candia McWilliam's books as crime novels? Anyway, you have offered me a wonderful nostalgic moment in memory of my beloved Scottish grandfather, Tom Davidson, who was the headmaster of the North Berwick High School and also an OBSESSIVE detective novel fan--he pressed on me lots of Scottish novels, old and new, but he especially loved MacIlvanney's Laidlaw books, and just seeing the name reminds me of him.


Sunshine with the Rankin seal of approval? Yikes, does this mean he's part of the establishment now? Heaven forfend...


Is it fair to add that Josephine Tey's Inspector Grant has a bit of a soft spot for all things Scottish as well (well, except the Dissenters)? This is going to sound odd, but I actually don't read much crime fiction set in my home town. If the details are wrong it irritates me, and if they're right I end up thinking "this is just like real life but not as interesting or varied." That said, maybe Nero Wolfe, which is cheerfully fantasy. Oh, and maybe S.J. Rozan as well.

Jeanne Ketterer

The very early movie The Great Train Robbery was filmed in my hometown in Jersey, plus we had the one or two speakeasy, but no crime fiction set in borough. (Although I read in the local paper online there've been some interesting illegal activities going on - maybe I'll do the book. Bec my oh my the crimes were/are so uncharacteristic.)
Katy Munger placed her Casey Jones series here and around my 'second' hometown - the Durham, Chapel Hill, Raleigh area. I thought she captured the area just right - balancing southern with an outsider (former NYer) viewpoint. If that makes sense.


Jenny D

Afterthought on the hometown topic. I don't particularly seek out crime novels set in NY, though there are obviously a ton of good ones (Rozan and Lawrence Block's Scudder books come immediately to mind, but there are a dozen other obvious ones too; and I do like Andrew Vachss!). BUT my one huge favorite NY crime novel is Chester Himes's Cotton Comes to Harlem.

I grew up in Philadelphia, and my picks for crime books there would be ones that aren't traditionally categorized as genre books--John Edgar Wideman as an obvious starting point.

Pat Lambe

Scotland seems to be one of those places (like my home state of New Jersey) where there is a large number of crime writers. I loved Allan's Two Way Split and I'm looking forward to reading many of the other books mentioned in this post. One disturbing trend that I read about recently (don't remember where, It may have been in this column) is that, apparently, many British Isle authors are having their works Americanized for sale on our side of the pond. I haven't seen this yet, in the Authors I've read -Allan and Ken Bruen mainly and I'd hate to see it. I'd think it's Bollocks (am I useing this word correctely? I do love to curse and would hate to use a profane word incorrectly)It would be especially galling considering that the best crime fiction recently seems to be coming out of Ireland, Enlgand and Scotland.

As for local boys (and girls) doing good (by writing about local boys doing bad) New Jersey is almost as full as crime writers as it of crooked politicians and criminals: A short list off the top of my head: Janet Evanovich, Charlie Stella, Harlan Coben, Joyce Carol Oats, Dave White, David Rosenfelt, and of course there is the Soprano's on TV and Bruce Springsteen (whose lyrics are very noir) on the radio. I love to read stories about my local hang outs.

Jeanne Ketterer

I agree, Pat. But I was thinking specifically of my NJ hometown which made me blank out on the rest of Jersey. Does that to me sometimes.
[After I sent the above post, I was thinking of how much my hometown changed. It'd gone from a somewhat sleepy 3 x 5 borough (retiring to Toms River something to aspire to) to something almost unrecognizable with a lot of apartments, etc. -- way more transient.]
And FWIW, IMO, Evanovich describes a Jersey I don't recognize.


Jenny D

Great NJ crime writer is Richard Price! Freedomland and Clockers and Samaritan are all works of genius...


Be My Enemy (Or, Fuck This for a Game of Soldiers) is my current reading... And Denise Mina is fantastic. And all the authors mentioned who I've actually read (not that many of them, I admit). I could go on and on really, and now you've given me a whole lot more to try out! Thanks! (Must try the medieval one; I always love combining crime and history...)

PS: The Crow Road was the first Iain Banks I ever read. That first line just had me in stitches, and still does.

David Thayer

I'm sure my fellow contributors at collected miscellany feel I've turned the site into the Denise Mina fan club of late. I loved Deception and Resolution.
I just finished Witch Hunt, Ian Rankin's standalone thriller. No Edinburgh, no Rebus, no Siobhan. The book's release date is next month so I think it's too late for that all important second draft.
I'm a Mina man. No wait, that's Lethem.
I agree about Richard Price. I have to think about what I'm going to say about Rankin because I admire his work.


Price has set his recent books -- which, I agree, are works of genius -- in New Jersey, but has never lived there. He's a New Yorker.

And Price probably wouldn't call himself a crime writer, which would normally drive me nuts, but I think I understand his view on this. He began writing about cops and criminals because he had exhausted the material of his own life. He didn't consciously set out to write crime novels, and was somewhat surprised to find his later work classified that way.

As a crime writer, I'd love to claim Price for our team. But I don't want to deny him the chance to be in the running for the mainstream awards -- which, I'm afraid, pretty much do discriminate against genre books -- so I'm sympathetic to his dilemma.

Jenny D

As far as Rankin's "Witch Hunt" goes, to the best of my knowledge it was first published in the UK in 1993, under the pseudonym Jack Harvey. So he probably wrote it just as or before he was writing the very first Rebus books. I read it and thought it was AWFUL! Though of course it's partly from having high expectations. Seems to me a bit of a scam (or opportunistic, anyway--scam is too strong) if the US publishers are trying to make it sound like a hot new stand-alone by IR...

Of course what Laura says about Richard Price is completely right. I wish he'd take it as a compliment that his books live up to the highest standard of crime writing (so many writers dabble in this without really understanding the imperatives of the genre), but I do understand why he might be averse to doing that, given the world's (misguided) unwillingness to consider novels irrespective of "genre".


>>One disturbing trend that I read about recently ... British Isle authors are having their works Americanized for sale on our side of the pond. <<

I have to say that this will not be the case with Point Blank. I kept asking Al to add more bloody bollocks to TWO-WAY SPLIT, eh, and have them cheeky lads swearin' and hollerin' in PROPER English. We forgot about it in the final edition, but the idea was to put in a disclaimer about this not being in US English. Maybe next time.


All - thank you very much for the great suggestions - whether for additional Scottish crime fiction, or for your local ones. This has given me a nice little list of new authors to look for :o)
Jenny - I've never tried any Alan Warner or Candia McWilliams, so I shall give them a try. And Rebecca - Josephine Tey - of course!
Pat - perfect use of the word bollocks and I agree about the Americanisation of British books (and vice versa. If I can't work out what a car trunk is then I deserve to be stuffed in one. And have you read Wallace Stroby's BARBED WIRE KISS? Without getting off my fat bum I'm almost 100% that's new Jersey. And Steve Lopez' IN THE CLEAR which I had some problems with but which was a pretty good read overall.
Sharon - BE MY ENEMY is excellent. Have you got to the....errrr...rope bit yet?

Thanks all - I'm having great fun!


I guess I need a geography lesson. Is john Baker anywhere near by?

Kevin Wignall

Pat, I'm afraid it's long been standard procedure for all major US publishers to Americanize ALL British novels. As my primary publisher is now S&S in New York, I actually write in US English because it makes it easier at the copy edit stage. I don't have a problem with it, though I think it's sad that US publishers have so little faith in the intelligence of their readership. You'll be pleased to know that EQMM, on the other hand, publish their stories in the original form.

Dave White

Pat Lambe has put out a few pieces which aren't too shabby himself. Check him out. Thanks for the mention Pat.

Pat Lambe

We are people seperated by a common language. I can't remember where I read this (as usual)but I remember reading this about the linguistic gulf that seperates English speakers on both sides of the Atlantic (I'm sure it applies to English speakers all over the world)

As for Neds, we have them in New Jersey as well. We call them Guidos, a dergatory term against Italian American's (although there are actually different types of Guido's: Irish, Lebanese, Cuban etc.) they all are cut from the same cloth as the Neds though (cloth, er I mean man made fiber, polyester I believe).

Pat Lambe

This is probably way off topic, but I clicked on the link to Shell Suites and saw a reference to David Icke on the promotional blurb. I think it's possibly some type of consipiricy. I'm a huge fan of the magazine Fortean Times (another great thing to come out of England, perhaps the best thing, besides, of course, our increadibly rich language, and the Bay City Rollers [Scottish boys I believe {excuse me as I've been drinking}])


Aldo - John Baker is York(northern England) set. In US terms it's just next door. I guess it's about 3 and a half hours on the train (or 6 on a Sunday and when there's leaves on the line).
Dave - thanks for the heads up - will do :o)
Pat - love your man made fibre comment :o) As for the shell suit link, I couldn't resist that one - I loved how the seller was so honest (did you see his other items, including the 'really horrible underpants'? I loved the Bay City Rollers. When all my friends were swooning over David Cassidy and Donny Osmond, I was singing shangalang and getting my Mum to sew tartan down the sides of all my trousers. And off topic? Did I HAVE a topic?...


Just finished Be My Enemy before I went to bed last night. ('You used what?') I loved Sacred Art of Stealing too, but it was good to see the gore and general ick factor ratcheted back up again.

Just scanning the comments again, noticed that someone thinks the best crime fiction is coming out of Ireland, England and Scotland. So does that mean they don't like the crime fiction coming from Wales (eg, John Williams, Malcolm Pryce), don't know about it (there are fewer writers, but it is a small country after all), or think that Wales is part of England?

Jeanne Ketterer

Pat, did you see the article last summer in the Bergen Record about a self-described 'Guido' and proud of it?

Is Jersey City Price's setting?

Okay, Sharon, will give Wales an equal chance -- I'll check out those mentioned.


Pat Lambe

Sharon - I was unaware of the Welsh authors, I've got a lot of catching up to do.

Jeanne - I missed the article about a self described Guido, and Jersey city is on the rise, with some parts undegoing extensive gentrification.


Price created a fictional setting within New Jersey, but I *think* it's based on Jersey City. Don't want to swear to that, however. In his books, there are two cities adjacent to each other, one depressed, one a little spiffier. One is called Dempsey and I'm too lazy to run downstairs to find out what the other is.

I love all three books in the Dempsey trilogy. CW has it that Clockers is the best book, but it had the advantage of the shock of the new, and the subsequent books were measured against it, often unfairly. I thought Samaritan was terrific. In fact, I might teach it at Goucher next spring. And steal a trick from a character in the book, a writing teacher who assigns students to write short pieces based on family photographs.


Sharon - I recently discovered John Williams books' with 5 Pubs, 2 Bars and a Nightclub (probably the wrong title, but I'm too lazy to get up).

Laura - I loved Clockers. I've read it a couple of times. I shall have to pick up the other 2 - I didn't realise it was a trilogy.

Jeanne Ketterer

Pat and Laura:
My mother was born and raised in JC (my grandfather settled there from Albania) and is dismayed at the changes it's gone through. She lived, along with many other family members, in the more upscale area at the time and is dismayed and also, a little disheartened, how JC changed over the years. Unfortunately, on one of her last visits there, we passed a few gang members having a 'discussion' with another guy near the boulevard. Depressed the hey out of her.
There's a book about a family of thieves in JC - I don't recall the title, maybe someone recalls.




Thank you for posting this fascinating assessment of the crime narrative weaved around Edinburgh. I knew of some of these, but some of this material was news to me. My thanks.

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