New(ish) Crime Writers, part 1.

by Harry on July 17, 2015

Ruth Rendell died in May. I never exactly loved the Wexford novels (I did love George Baker as Wexford on TV, though), but her non-Wexford novels were great, especially the mature Barbara Vines. I stopped reading her altogether in the late 1990s, only on the very sensible grounds that at some point I would have a lot of her novels to read (I started devouring them about 8 months ago, co-incidentally). She is the last to die of what I thought of as the post-Julian Symons triumvirate of great English crime writers — her, PD James, and Reginald Hill.

But in the past few years I’ve been discovering a host of fantastic successors to recommend to you [1]. Here’s the first.

William Shaw. Of my candidates, Shaw is the one you are most likely to have missed. I can’t even remember how I came across the first book She’s Leaving Home (UK title, inferior in my opinion: A Song from Dead Lips ). It is the first in a projected trilogy all set within a few weeks at the end of 1967 and beginning of 1968; focused on an Irish-English cop in his thirties with a female side kick (or, as my son sometimes confusedly calls it, ‘kick-butt’ about 10 years his junior. I just finished the second, The Kings of London (inferior UK title: A House of Knives ) and already find it hard to believe that Shaw will stop at three. Prerequisites for qualifying as a successor to the triumvirate are tight plots that, while complex, do not strain credibility too much, good characterisation, and fluent prose. Shaw does all that. But he also creates the feel of a world which is changing rapidly in ways that some of the protagonists only dimly understand: he is early-Mad-Men-like in his insistence on period detail. And Mad Men-like, for that matter, in both his portrayal of the casual sexism of the time, and of the interesting women who are the recipients of it. It takes a while — quite a while — to get used to his sparse, depressive, prose, but that is a key part of the immersive experience of reading the novels. As I’ve indicated, the first two books both have different titles in the US than in the UK (incredibly annoying!!) and for what it is worth, better the US titles are better (in fact, about half way through the first I wondered why it was not called “She’s Leaving Home” — and then found that, indeed, that was the US title). So be warned if you are buying — only buy each one, once.

An aside: also well worth reading is his other book, Spying in Guru Land: Inside Britain’s Cults, in which he does numerous things that no IRB would approve, is a very balanced assessment of cult life, and is genuinely illuminating about the Waco massacre.

[1] Warning: as will become clear later on, not all of these successors are English, I’m including Scots and Irish, and will include Welsh if anyone can either recommend a good Welsh one, or convince me that one of my candidates is, in fact, Welsh.