Putting Together British Crime Writing: An Encyclopedia by BARRY FORSHAW

Written by Barry Forshaw


 

If you’re putting together a comprehensive encyclopedia of British crime writing – one that weighs in at half a million words, no less – it’s not a good idea to write the whole things yourself. Not if you have any sense of self-preservation, that is. So as well as writing for the publishers Greenwood as much of British Crime Writing: An Encyclopedia as much as I thought I could handle without total exhaustion, I cajoled, wheedled and otherwise twisted the arms of such crime grands fromages as Andrew Taylor, Natasha Cooper, Russell James, Carol Anne Davis, Phillip Gooden, Mark Timlin, Lauren Milne-Henderson, Martin Edwards, Carla Banks, Mike Ashley, Nicholas Royle and Michael Jecks (along with a variety of key crime reviewers and editors – including the genre specialists at Shots). With this group (and valuable input from Mike Ripley and Mark Campbell – plus early inspiration from Living Legend Peter Guttridge), how could I go wrong? And with a final proofread from Mike Ashley – whose crime fiction scholarship is prodigal -- the icing was truly on the cake. (it was enjoyable sending Mike his own entries then arguing over changes he disapproved of. Really!)

 

Trends, Genres

I’m hoping readers will find that non-pareil critical writing is the order of the day. The experts here know virtually everything there is to know about the genre -- from writers who produced a single long-out-of-print novel in the 1920s to what trends are likely to develop in a healthy, organically expanding genre. Entries are laid out alphabetically, so alongside an A--Z listing of writers, penetrating essays on particular subjects will be found under the key initial letter (such as Literature and Crime Fiction under ‘L’, or Tart Noir under ‘T’. Other genres that impinge on the subject -- such as the many highly impressive films and TV adaptations of British crime fiction -- are similarly covered with intelligence and enthusiasm (principally by one of the UK’s most respected film critics, Kim Newman). Whether the reader is seeking a guide to the best (or even the enjoyably meretricious) in crime fiction to add to their shopping list, or looking for a
debriefing after enjoying a particular book, both functions will be comfortably accommodated here.

 

Doing It Differently

This encyclopedia hopefully presents the most comprehensive view of British crime-writing (both fiction and true crime) ever attempted. Every key writer is here, along with all the important one-shot and fringe authors. The astonishing riches of the field, with its celebrated achievements from the Golden Age of Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle and Dorothy Sayers through to modern British writers such as PD James, Ruth Rendell and Ian Rankin, are given definitive examinations. There are essays on all key writers, film scripts, lively analyses of important topics and sub-genres, from serial killer novels to the contemporary breed of tough women writers and longer discursive essays on key themes including 'Social comment in crime fiction' and 'Crime fiction and sexuality'.

While British crime fiction is enjoying greater popularity than ever (and television incarnations of such Brit classics as Sherlock Holmes and Jane Marple proliferate, along with more recent coppers such as the tough Inspector Rebus), there have been few really definitive volumes that rigorously examine the genre from the Golden Age to current bestselling writers. This encyclopedia presents the most comprehensive view of British crime fiction ever attempted: every key writer is here, along with all the important one-shot and fringe authors (such is the popularity of the genre that many writers of science fiction have tailored their cloth to a more profitable discipline - hence the growth in the high-tec crime thriller).

The astonishing riches of the field, with its celebrated achievements from the Golden Age of Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle and Dorothy Sayers through to modern British writers such as PD James, Ruth Rendell and Ian Rankin, are given definitive examinations. And another of the great glories of British crime and thriller writing is celebrated here: the literary field, with writers such as Graham Greene and Eric Ambler considered alongside such espionage novelists as John le Carré. And there are essays on all key writers, lively analyses of important topics and sub-genres, from serial killer novels to the contemporary breed of tough women writers - the latter just as adept at uncompromising violence as the male writers whose province this has traditionally been.

The approach is a synthesis of the lively and the academic – I’m hoping that this will make it the perfect guide for those seeking the perfect library of British crime fiction.

 

 
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Barry Forshaw



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