Yesterday, the At The Scene of the Crime Blog engaged in an emperor-has-no-clothes rant against the Agatha and Edgar Awards, specifically against the books that get nominated for these awards. The link is here.
Let the Agatha fans judge the Agatha Christie-like novels.
I sometimes give mixed reviews, but the reason I don't like any particular book usually has more to do with me than with the book at hand. In my youth, there were books that I could not finish, or could finish only because it was assigned in school--many of these same books I now treasure and reread with pleasure. The books have not changed, but I have.
And there are other books that I considered great back then, but which I now see as short-sighted and shallow. We need to have a greater tolerance for other minds who might see the world differently. How lucky we are that we have such a wide selection of novels to choose from, and a golden age of crime literature if there ever was one.
After all, there are many other sub-genre awards.
And his objection to the John Connolly and Declan Burke-edited Books To Die For seems especially misguided. No one is going to agree with all of those authors, but without the prompting essays in that big volume, I might have missed several reading experiences that have made my life richer.
Some of the essays are lacking, as Michael Dirda pointed out in his
Washington Post review (link), but as Dirda also points out:
"...the general standard of the essays is high, most of them arguing for the depth and sophistication, the literary quality, of their chosen book or author. As the editors note in their thoughtful introduction, serious crime novelists do tend to be secret, or not so secret, moralists. In the headnote to Jo Nesbo’s rave for Jim Thompson’s “Pop. 1280” — chosen instead of the notorious “The Killer Inside Me” — Geoffrey O’Brien is even quoted as calling Thompson our “Dimestore Dostoevsky.”
Without a lot of fanfare, “Books to Die For” also points out that memorable European crime fiction existed long before Stieg Larsson and Henning Mankell. Qiu Xiaolong champions the Martin Beck novels of Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo, both as mysteries and critiques of Sweden’s capitalist society. James Sallis quotes enough from Jean-Patrick Manchette’s “3 to Kill” that I want to find it in French.
Cara Black proves comparably good on “120, Rue de la Gare,” by Leo Malet, whose novels are nearly as popular in France as those of Georges Simenon — who, in his turn, is represented by “Act of Passion.” According to John Banville, a score of Simenon’s novels “can stand beside, or look down on, the work of Camus, Sartre, or Andre Gide.” Perhaps my favorite essay of all is Elisabetta Bucciarelli’s on Friedrich Durrenmatt’s psychologically and ethically complex “The Pledge.” There’s a paperback in this house somewhere, and I really must find it.
The best use of a volume like “Books to Die For” may finally be to remind readers — and publishers — of the many important authors or titles that merit rediscovery. For instance, introducing “A Stranger in My Grave,” Declan Hughes declares that its author, Margaret Millar, was “the greatest female crime writer of the twentieth century.” Arguable, to say the least, especially when one thinks of Agatha Christie, Patricia Highsmith and Ruth Rendell (all represented here). But Millar is partially neglected because she happened to be married to, again in Hughes’s words, “the greatest male crime writer of the twentieth century,” Ross Macdonald. Again very, very arguable, but at least Macdonald’s work is a lot easier to find at the bookstore. Don’t miss “The Chill,” rightly called a masterpiece by John Connolly. . ."
Mediocrity? Hardly. Dirda doesn't even mention my favorites in here such as Paul Johnston's essay on Philip Kerr's A Philosophical Investigation and Denise Hamilton's essay on Kem Nunn's Tapping The Source, both of which I read and blogged about.
Were Johnston and Hamilton self-promoting? Not overtly, though their intelligent essays had me checking out their books anyway. Was the rant against the Agatha Awards and Books To Die For simply a self-promoting scheme? If so, to judge by all of the talk it has generated and the comments on his blog, it was a very successful one.
Why didn't I think of that?