Tag Archives: John Lawton


22 Sep
The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters by Francisco Goya

The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters by Francisco Goya

Literary journalism must, I suppose by definition, appeal to a marginal and as it is often claimed, shrinking audience. Thus it apparently behooves its practitioners to offer up a variety ofarguable and contestable theories so as to attract an audience and whatever follows from that. Recently, I came across a reference to an article by Salon senior editor and literary eminence gris’ Laura Miller claiming that “today’s most exciting crime novelists are women.” A stance, it can not go unsaid, I found so silly that I had to try to read the offending column for both its reasoning and to double check that a critic as eminent as MS Miller actually claimed its byline.

Firstly, the writers she singles out are certainly a talented gaggle (she did leave out at least two very talented women (Laura McHugh and Attica Locke, who are at least the peers of Miller’s anointed.)On the other hand, perhaps Miller felt that naming four writers made her case.

Secondly, MS Miller is a savvy and experienced and no doubt intelligent commentator who one would expect would understand the dangers of using superlatives like ‘best’, ‘greatest’, ‘hottest’ in literary conversations (except when preceded by a personal possessive). What then is one to make of the phrase ‘most exciting crime novelists are women’? It is the case that women writers of all stripes are given short shrift in the main organs of the literary arena (every once in a while a diligent and enterprising writer will spend time breaking down the percentage of reviews by gender at the The New York Times and the New Yorker>.So if MS Miller is trying to level the playing fields in some way I suppose one ought to commend her. On the other hand her claim does do a disservice to the other writers who are doing fine work in the disrespected category of genre literature (genre seems to be synonym for ‘non literary’).Now I will stipulate that often the crime series like John D MacDonald’s Travis Magee, Robert Parker’s Spenser novels or even Micheal Connelly’s Harry Bosch’s novels (Parker is among the deceased writers now undergoing a kind of reductio ad absurdum by being written by living writers)are seem formulaic and predictable. It should be noted that Baltimore’s gift to story telling Laura Lippman, does her best work not with her series but with her stand alone novels

Attica Locke [photo: Robert Birnbaum]

Attica Locke [photo: Robert Birnbaum]

So in the name of all that is fair and decent in the world, here’s a short list of fine crime story writers: John Lawton(Sweet Sunday, Then We Take Berlin),George Pelacanos, Benjamin Black, Edward Delaney(Broken Irish), Stuart Neville, Jo Nesbo, James Lee Burke,Tom ROB SMITH, Elmore Leonard(Out of Sight),Charlie Huston(The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death, Sleepless), Thomas Perry(Butcher’s Boy, Sleeping Dogs), Philip Kerr
(A Philosophical Investigation), Olen Stenhauser, Ace Atkins, Charles McCarry (The Miernik Dossier Shelley’s Heart), Attica Locke (Black Water Rising), Charles Smith(Men in Miami Hotels), James Ellroy (Underworld USA trilogy), Tom Bouman(Dry Bones in the Valley), John Fusco(Dog Beach),Robert Stone(Death of the Black-Haired Girl)and Don Winslow(The Power of the Dog).

Robert Stone circa 2013 [photo Robert Birnbaum]

Robert Stone circa 2013 [photo Robert Birnbaum]

Currently reading Can’t We Talk about Something More Pleasant?: A Memoir by Roz Chast (Bloomsbury)

Serial Fictionists

7 Sep

Except for a novitiate’s enthusiasm for John D McDonald’s Travis MCGee, I have not been enamored of crime store series as I discovered more and more irresistible crime story writers. I tried to stay with Robert Parker’s Spenser and early on and lost interest. Lawrence Block’s Scudder became agonizingly involved with 12 Steps and Alcoholics Anonymous. Andrew Vachhs’s Burke was compelling, especially since he so skillfully lived off the grid but you can only get so much mileage out of amorality.Thomas Perry’s Jane whitehead seemingly became a vehicle for various of her pyrotechnics. For a time, Walter Mosley’s Easy Rollins progressed convincingly—Mosley kept moving through the decades to good effect. Even highly regarded Michael Connolly’s Harry Bosch became tiresome —I would maintain that Connelly’s one-off, The Poet, was his best book. In fact, both Dennis Lehane and Robert Parker most absorbing stories were the one-offs they wrote set in a Boston of the past.

Elmore Leonard has done himself proud with a long skein of fine stories but even he has, of late, succumbed to the temptation of reprising a powerful and enthralling character e.g. Raylon Givens, Karen Sisco and Jack Foley. George Pelecanos’s early stories were a series of sorts but his recent books have been woven whole cloth each time out. Reportedly though, his fine new novel, The Cut featuring a young Iraq war vet is the beginning of a string.

Under varying circumstances I have recently had cause to return to Philip Kerr’s Bernie Gunther series(a chat), Michael Dibdin’s Zen stories (Masterpiece Theater series), Bernard Black’s Quirke (another chat)(I am tempted to propagate the New Yorker‘s erroneous assignment of a first name to Black’s hero—but no), Richard Stark’s Parker(Banville’s recommendation), John Lawton’s Inspector Troy ( joyful discovery and John Harvey’s Charley Resnick(an old and goody).

Interestingly,when I spoke to Kerr he shrewdly observed that series writers usually write one or two too many—citing Raymond Chandler as an example. I am pleased to report that that Kerr, Lawton, Stark and Harvey and, to some degree, Black have managed to enliven the ongoing stories of their heroes.

That’s good news.

Currently reading Nightwoods Charles Frazier(Random House)