Tuesday, August 31, 2010

A Hard Habit to Break*

Crime fiction is awfully popular. Many libraries and bookstores have entire sections devoted to the genre, and sales of crime fiction books account for a large percentage of books sold. There are also many blogs (including, ahem, this one) that are dedicated to crime fiction. All of this interest in crime fiction must mean that there are a lot of crime fiction fans out there. There certainly are in, well, crime fiction.

For instance, Arthur Conan Doyle’s Dr. Watson reads detective novels. Of course, they pale by comparison to his experiences working with Sherlock Holmes, but he does enjoy reading them.

Several of Agatha Christie’s characters, too, enjoy reading crime fiction. For instance, in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, Hercule Poirot investigates the stabbing death of retired manufacturing tycoon Roger Ackroyd. In the process of finding out the truth about the murder, Poirot gets to know several members of Ackroyd’s household, including his housekeeper, Miss Russell. During one conversation, she admits to reading and enjoying detective novels. Her comment amuses Dr. James Sheppard, the local GP and a friend of Ackroyd’s. Sheppard lives next door to the house Poirot has taken, and when Poirot gets involved in the mystery, Sheppard follows along; the story is actually told from his point of view.

Murder in Mesopotamia, Poirot investigates the murder of Louise Leidner, wife of noted archeologist Eric Leidner, while they are on a dig near Baghdad. This story is told from the point of view of Amy Leatheran, a nurse whom Leidner hires to help look after his wife when she begins to show signs of paranoia. Shortly after Leatheran arrives at the expedition house, Louise Leidner is murdered by a blow to the head, and Poirot, who’s traveling in the area, is persuaded to break his journey and find the killer. Shortly before the murder, there’s an interesting scene in which Nurse Leatheran is resting in her room after lunch. She’s reading a novel called Death in a Nursing Home, and crime fiction fans can appreciate her enthusiasm for the book when she finally puts the book down, only then realizing how late it’s gotten. As Vanda Symon reminds us, it’s also a neat little nod to Ngaio Marsh, as that’s the title of one of Marsh’s novels.

Christie actually uses a detective novel to provide a clue in One, Two, Buckle My Shoe (AKA The Patriotic Murders and An Overdose of Death). That’s the story of the shooting murder of Henry Morley, a successful dentist. He’s shot in his surgery one day, and since Poirot was one of his patients that morning, he gets involved in the investigation. Poirot and Inspector James “Jimmy” Japp interview all of the staff and patients, including Alfred, the page boy whose job it is to see patients in and out of the office and operate the elevator. Alfred confesses that he didn’t see exactly what everyone in the office was dong all morning, because when he wasn’t needed, he was busy reading a detective novel that he describes as:

“… an American detective story. It’s a corker, sir, it really is! All about gunmen.”

The title of that novel actually becomes a clue to the killer.

In Kathleen O’Neal Gear and W. Michael Gear’s The Visitant, archeologist William “Dusty” Stewart and forensic anthropologist Dr. Maureen Cole search for the truth about the deaths of eight women whose remains have recently been found in New Mexico’s Sonora Desert. As they undertake a modern-day investigation, we follow the parallel story of 13th Century War Chief Browser and his deputy and friend, Catkin. These two also investigate the strange and frightening incidents that have led to the murders. Stewart uncovers what he thinks is the explanation for the murders and for the some of the forensic phenomena Cole has found. He suspects that the ancient Anasazi, who lived in that area, might have used the bodies for witchcraft purposes. His inspiration for that idea comes from crime fiction he’s read. In fact, when Cole asks about Stewart’s idea, Stewart responds,

“Don’t you read Tony Hillerman?”

Eugene “Huge” Smalls is also a crime fiction devotee whom we meet in James W. Fuerst’s Huge. He’s a twelve-year-old New Jersey misfit who’s extremely bright, but has a lot of trouble fitting in. He’s read lots of Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett and other authors and wants to be a detective. He gets his chance when his grandmother hires him to find out who defaced the sign at the nursing home where she lives. In the process of looking for clues and investigating suspects, Huge tries to emulate his heroes. In the end, he finds out who was responsible for the vandalism; he also finds out a lot about himself.

Mark Haddon’s
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is the story of another crime-fiction fan, fifteen-year-old Christopher Boone. Christopher has autism, which in some ways enhances his detection skills, since he can remember many details that other people can’t. He’s a particular fan of Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles, and wants to be a detective like Sherlock Holmes. When he finds the body of a neighbor’s dog, he decides to be a detective and find out who killed the dog. As he searches for the truth, Christopher also finds out some other buried secrets.

Paricia Stoltey’s sleuth, retired judge Sylvia Thorn, is also a crime fiction fan. She enjoys curling up with her favorite crime fiction authors and enjoying a glass of wine. Crime becomes all too real for her, though, in The Prairie Grass Murders, when her brother Willie finds a dead man on the family’s former farm. In The Desert Hedge Murders, Sylvia and Willie get involved in murder again when Sylvia accompanies her mother and group of her mother’s friends to Las Vegas, only to find a dead man in a bathtub.

As you can see, there are a lot of crime fiction addicts both in real life and in crime fiction. Perhaps you enjoy crime fiction yourself. Of course, there’s a difference between enjoying crime fiction and being an addict. So, to help you decide whether your crime fiction habit has gotten the better of you, here are some helpful (?) guidelines:

You might be a crime fiction addict if..

…a disturbing number of the titles in your TBR pile/list include the words dead, kill, blood, murder or body, or some variation.

…you are still upset about what happened in Jo Nesbø’s The Redbreast and/or Elizabeth George’s With No One As Witness.

…you have ever missed a train, bus or tram stop because they’d just found the body in the novel you were listening to or reading.

…you know what TGWTDT means.

…you get upset when literary critics say that crime fiction cannot count as “literature.”

…you can give at least five examples of novels and authors that prove those critics wrong.

…you can name at least three Swedish crime fiction authors.

…besides Stieg Larsson ; ).

…you ever got in trouble in school because instead of reading the required books, you were reading Enid Blyton, The Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew and later the likes of Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, Sue Grafton or Henning Mankell.

…you have a strong opinion on who was the best Hercule Poirot on films and television (um, it’s David Suchet ; ) ).

…your most expensive purchases in the last year have been new crime fiction releases (Well, there was the new Theorin, and Peter Temple’s Truth, and Martin Edwards’ The Serpent Pool and Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams' Delicious and Suspicious, and Alan Orloff's Diamonds for the Dead and oh yes, you just had to have that Tonino Benacquista, and…)

…you usually spot the killer fairly early in a mystery because this story is exactly like one you just read last week (or last month…).

So…are you a crime fiction addict? What are your telltale signs that you’re addicted? If you are hooked on crime fiction, I hate to tell you, but there is no hope. You are addicted and you will be for life. But that’s OK; crime fiction writers wouldn’t want it any other way ; ).

*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a song by Chicago.


  1. How can you tell you're addicted to crime fiction? You write it. You read it. You do blog posts on guns and silencers. You're probably on a watch list somewhere because of all the research you do.

    "Crime fiction is awfully popular."(Oh, I'm glad because I'm trying to get my book published.)

    Margot, you are, without a doubt, a crime fiction addict. I hope to have read as many crime novels as you have before I die. Great post!


  2. Clarissa - I laughed out loud when I read what you wrote about blog posts on guns and silencers. You've given me inspiration to do a post on how you can spot a crime fiction author : ) : ). I just love it!

    And yes, I'm Margot and I'm a crime fiction addict : ).

  3. Maybe we should start our own 12 step program. But then, who wants to be cured?

  4. LOL! That's just it; an addiction cannot be broken until the addict decides to break it. Personally, I choose to stay hooked : ).

  5. I'm reading Carolyn Hart's "Laughed Until He Died" right now, which is set in a mystery book store (like the whole Death on Demand series) and often mentions mystery writers and readers and books. I'm always so proud when I get the references.

    I have to say I was glad when my library started using a question mark symbol to label the crime fiction -- my daughter's getting old enough to wonder about the skull symbol they used to use. :D

  6. Karen - It's like being "in on" a joke, isn't it? When there's a reference one understands like that, it's a nod to the reader and I always like that, too, when I get that kind of reference.

    I like the idea of a question mark to label crime fiction, too. It gets the message about the category across in a way that's not a problem for children. Our library labels crime fiction Mystery for a similar reason, I think.

  7. I guess I'm an addict, even though I don't know enough Swedish crime writers. However, I do know some from South Africa. Does that count? And I add a yes vote to David Suchet.

    Thanks for using Sylvia's love of mysteries as an example. She often quibbles with her mother about sub-genre, though. Mom loves police procedurals and thinks that qualifies her to be a sleuth.

  8. Margot I discovered Sojwall and Wahloo thanks to a comment in Camilleri's August Heat. Also Villar's Water-Blue Eyes pays homage to Camilleri and to Fred Vargas in his last novel Death on a Galician Shore.

  9. OK, my name is Margaret and I'm a bookaholic - and a crime fiction addict. I'm happy with that, no need for counselling as I don't want to be cured.

    David Suchet is Poirot.

  10. Patricia - I think you still qualify as a crime fiction addict : ). And it's my pleasure to mention Sylvia - she's a great a example of a crime-fiction addict. I actually like Sylvia's relationship with her mother quite a lot. I think you did that quite well. And I'm glad you agree about Suchet : ).

    Jose Ignacio - I absolutely must read Water-Blue Eyes. Folks, here is Jose Ignacio's terrific review of that novel. And here is an excellent review from Maxine at Petrona. I always think it's so interesting when we come across those references to other crime fiction. It does get the reader interested in other crime fiction, doesn't it?

    Margaret - There's no need to be cured : ). There are far, far worse addictions. Besides, with this addiction, you learn with every "fix." And I'm glad you agree about Suchet as the best Poirot. I think he is Poirot, too.

  11. I'm definitely a crime-fiction addict. However, I am all too aware that there are plenty of poor examples of crime fiction around, as well as good ones.
    I recently read Garcia-Roza's Silence of the Rain, in which the detective enjoys reading crime fiction. Stieg Larsson also mentions various crime novelists in his series. (Many people say his books are deliberate hommages to earlier authors).
    I hope you do get around to Water-Blue Eyes though it is always a bit nerve-wracking to recommend novels, in case others don't like them. This one is a classical novel rather than relying on anything modern, I'd say. And also, it is short. ;-)

  12. Maxine - I couldn't agree with you more: there are certainly just as many examples of poorly-written crime fiction as of well-written crime fiction. I'm glad you mention the Larsson books; I meant to make mention of them in my post, and then, I confess, forgot to, so I'm glad you've repaired that gap because in subtle ways as well, I think they are homages.

    I'm glad you enjoyed Inspector Espinosa in The Silence of the Rain. I think he's a terrific character, too, and yes, he enjoys crime fiction. Folks, here is Maxine's excellent review of this novel.

    And yes, I do intend to read Water Blue Eyes. I put it on my TBR list when I read your recommendation of it.

  13. I blame the bloggers for my addiction and my book buying binges. Your reviews and recommendations are so enticing that I put the author on my list and have to read their next offering.

  14. Oh, I'm definitely a crime fiction addict and just a plain book addict. Love the post. It is interesting to find other books mentioned in stories you're reading.

    Thoughts in Progress

  15. Norman - You know, it's quite common for addicts to blame others for their addictions ; ). I do agree with you, though; well-done book reviews on excellent blogs like yours do make crime fiction irresistible! Hence my own TBR pile *sigh*. ; )

    Mason - Thanks : ). And I think it's interesting, too, to "meet" book lovers in novels. More than once I've read about an author in a novel, and then read and enjoyed a book by that author. And, yes, I'd say you're a book addict, just judging from the terrific guest authors and reviews on your blog.

  16. "What Came Before He Shot Her"is the one Elizabeth George novel I will never buy. Although a fascinating psychological study, I just found it too depressing, since one already knew the end. I own everything else she's written and reread them with great joy and admiration.

    I cheerfully admit my addiction to crime fiction and I certainly find it the easiest genre to write. Not that it's that easy, come to think of it, but I muddle on.

  17. Elspeth - I know exactly what you mean about What Came Before He Shot Her. I don't have that one, either. And I'm pretty cheerful about admitting my own addiction to crime fiction. It's been a part of my life for a long, long time - why hide it? And it is fun to write, isn't it? Or am I just in desperate need of serious professional help? ; )

  18. Oh no! I have read Margot´s blog too late in the night again - I liked her post but am too tired to leave an intelligent comment, and I just realized I had fallen out of the top commenters!

    What do I do?
    I break down and confess (even without being tickled) that I AM INDEED A CRIME FICTION ADDICT!

    BUT I don´t get upset when literary critics say that crime fiction cannot count as “literature.” - I feel so sorry for the poor people who have to hide the best books in the closet.

  19. Dorte - LOL! You are such a courageous woman to admit that you are a crime fiction addict! That takes bravery and a real resolve. : )

    And I know what you mean about literary critics who don't consider crime fiction to be "real" literature. You're right; I'll bet they pull out their hidden copies of Truth, My Soul to Take or Judgement in Stone when no-one is looking. : ).