Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Why Detective Fiction is pathetic. Why Harlan Coben is just great.

What we become depends on what we read after all of the professors have finished with us. The greatest university of all is a collection of books. [Thomas Carlyle]

Unless they're detective fiction, obviously.

It’s like golf and having an interest in jewellery – I can accept that other people can see the point, but it means absolutely brain emptyingly nothing to me.

Here is the formula for all detective fiction:
  1. Detective finds puzzle (puzzle = dead body - rather than a word search in TV Quick).
  2. Detective follows *clues*.
  3. More puzzles/clues turn up (dead bodies – not anagrams in cryptic crosswords).
  4. Detective solves puzzle, finds the killer.
  5. Killer admits crime.
  6. Some random ridiculous twisty thing happens.
  7. Detective sorts it out.
  8. Everyone goes home happily and sleeps well.
  9. Well, everyone apart from Mr Nasty who gets deaded or imprisoned somewhere not nice.
  10. The end. Thank Christ.
If that’s too boring and predictable you can throw in a few off-the-peg character traits n quirks for the Detective:
  1. He is emotionally unstable.
  2. He is a she.
  3. She is a drunk.
  4. She has a quirky vehicle, perhaps an old car or a hang-glider.
  5. He/she is a monk or a cowboy or a deep sea fisherman. In space.
  6. He has a quirky sidekick who is in many ways the polar opposite of him. O, imagine the quirky, comedic dialogue that will ensue!
  7. Some other stuff. A dog. A mother. A nut allergy. She makes jewelry in her spare time.
  8. Fuck off.
O, detective fiction let me spit your name. The detectives are o-so-effin intelligent and the books are o-so-effin stupid.

Reading a series of novels about the same detective must serve the same sort of mind-emptying comfort-blanket reassurance that a child gets from watching the same DVD over and over and over again.

*Nothing bad can
really happen in the world. My detective hero/ine will solve it in the end.*

But don’t get me wrong, I don’t want an argument. I won’t go as far as to say that some books should be burnt, as obviously some might be useful if you have a wonky coffee table leg. But, yes, that’s all just rank prejudice. It shouldn't even be said.

But, don’t get me wrong, again, I like *Crime Fiction*. I love books about shoplifting. I would love to read ‘The History of Corporate Fraud’. Well, okay, that might be a bit boring, but armed robbery is always a laugh, right? Autobiographies of *Mad* Frankie Fraser and his friends. I have no problem with them. I wouldn’t dare to argue with those chaps.

So, feeling that I was missing out on some of these fantastic authors and feeling open minded, I decided to give them a go. Enjoy these *thrillers* for what they are: good old fashioned (or maybe good modern fashioned - I aint prejudice, me) - fun. Rip-roaring, rollercoasters of plot, intrigue, adventure, fascinating, intriguing, page-turning fun. And you can quote me on that, imaginary reader, you really can.

I went to Longsight library, I got sniffy looks from the checkout lady as I handed her a big pile of 8 books I was intending to *read*. Or at least have a look at before I rejected them (which is pretty much my standard method of dealing with library books). If I've not paid for it, I don't feel the same moral imperative to actually read it if it's shit. If it's shit, I take it back, get something else a bit less shit. Common sense. Let someone else take the book out, no point in me hoggin it on my book shelves, or torturing myself *reading* a book I have zero interest in.

So that my life and status as a famous literary all-rounder would no longer lack from a deficit of knowledge of contemporary crime fiction, I sat down and did some research...

Here are my reviews:

So, first up: James Patterson - some book of his. With a car on the cover, maybe. Certainly a car chase in the first chapter. A good start, plotwise. You can't go wrong with cars chasing other cars, right? Smashing. Although, apparently Patterson doesn't always actually *write* all his books himself. He has a team of people who work to his specifications; fill in the actual words for his *fascinating* plots. A bit like Jordan/Katie Price & that Iceland Advert lady do with their novels.

Why waste your time writing if you can get someone else to do it for you? Common sense, that is. I'm not sure if this book was one of those books, that he couldn't be bothered filling in the word bits of. Fact is I'm trying to scour all traces of this book out of my mind. I've already managed to forget the title of it.

Anyway. This Patterson book. Fuckin inept. Grossly inadequate. It would fail its GCSE Ingerlish. Just really shitely written. Not that anyone cares about that. Apart from the saintly Stephen King, who allegedly called Patterson a writer of "dopey thrillers." Anyway, this book wasn't all bad. The spelling was okay, even if it was all spelleded out in an American style, so it probably would pass its GCSE. I don't want to get hyperbolic. But it did deserve to get thrown across the room (sorry about that Manchester City Libraries - no real harm done, just a bit of scuffing round the edges).

2nd: Walter Mosely. Alright. Not too horrific. Interesting period detail. All in all, quite good. Cheers, Walt. I would read another. But not tomorrow. One day, yeah, I would. Especially one that doesn't have a detective in. That would be really good. I bet.

3rd book on the pile - the venerable Ian Rankin. Everyone likes Rankin. Even himself. He seems to like himself quite a lot. Wonders why he's not on the Booker Prize shortlist and all that.

Rankin said: "Authors would be lying if they said prizes don't matter and prizes are a recognition of the genre's worth, another step out of the ghetto... But then, crime authors can just say look at my sales figures and weep!"
He said that his books had probably been considered for the Man Booker prize, which is currently worth £50,000. "I'm sure I've got looked at by the Booker judges from time to time," he said. "And if they gave me a Booker, I doubt I'd say no. I'm not that stupid!" [Rankin in The Independent]

Anyway. I'm just bitter and jealous of his good looks and vast success. The book I read - about his detective guy in Edinburgh - it bored me sideways. I can see that people might like it, like I can vaguely see the attractions of golf, macrame and brewing your own beer, but it's not for me. Dull. There's no point in me bothering to review it. There's no point in this list. I may as well kill myself...

But then I got to book no. 4: Harlan Coben's 'Tell No One' ... joooooooooyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy unbound!!!!

And I used to think that Jeffrey Archer was the greatest author that ever lived!!! Pshaw. Time to rewrite the record books, baby.

I read, and then I read, and then I read.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered that Harlan Coben is the world’s greatest writer!!! Or at the very least the greatest writer of formularic fiction. A crime writer! With no actual detective (in the book I read!)!!!! More exclamation marks are needed than exist in the world!!!!!

A multi-millionaire author sold in airports next to the other *greats* of the world’s most boring genre like Rankin, Patricia Cornwell and Agatha Christie.

It’s unbelievable! How did he do it? Did he brainwash me?

Here. Come here. Come, here. Now. Here's what I want you to do: compare and contrast the runners and riders in the race to be the world’s best writer - with apologies to foreign peoples I have missed off the list cos I've not read or heard of:

1. Salman Rushdie… nah, a bit prolix and whilst I admire your verbal dexterity, Salman, I’m bored by your goblins and cloven footed religious naysayers. A bit less *magic*, Salman, a little bit more *realism*.
2. Orhan Pamuk is reasonably clever – but he actually writes crime fiction! *My Name Is Red* & *Snow* are both about murders and the discovery of the murderers. Basically detective fiction. Bastard. Soz, Orh, I’m going to have to disallow him from this list. Soz.
3. Haruki Murakami – oh, yeah, but all his books are about missing women and the quest to find them. He does detectives, too. Fuck off.
4. Margaret Atwood – murders, crime and punishment. Get out, Maggie.
5. Zadie Smith? Zadie Smith… Sorry, wrong list.

Yeah, that list? I lost the will to live half way through. Who wants to read other people's lists? I don't even want to read my own. No, I'm not sure what that was meant to prove. Zadie Smith though, ay? I like the 2nd book best. The one no one else seems to like. But that's completely by-the-by. I'm having a go at Defective Fiction right now & blogging on about why Harlan Coben is really great.

Except. Is there any point? I may as well say, have a go, have a read, make your own mind up. I'm off to make my tea. I'm starvin, mate.

I think though, one of the big things is, I prefer it when the story is about some ordinary person with bad things happening to them, not some God-like brainiac solving *mysteries* bla bla bla. Elementary that is, el-a-fuckin-mentary. But, y'know, I'm not gonna bang on. These Coben books, they are probably not for you, imaginary reader. It's just a personal opinion, right? He's probably a bit boysy, I reckon. A bit offensively non-Booker-prizey. Probably not quite as good at dialogue as Elmore Leonard. A bit repetitive, plotwise - I've read 1 & a half of his books and they are both a bit similar - missing kids/missing wife/worried bloke/horrible nasty other people. But hey, who says you can't review a book when you've not finished it yet? Certainly not me, it's not the first book I've written a review of when I've obviously not bothered to crack open the spine of the book...

So, this new one - it's good so far. and his plot - if he does only have one plot - is fun. Great for reading when you're recovering from an operation - like I am. Hurrah. And the French film of *Tell No One* is properly twisty-mac-turny [see above]. And very very silly as well, obviously. But well done, Harlan. I'll read more. How nice. Liking things: not very interesting to read about, clearly, but good for the soul...

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