Crime overtakes romance

In the spirit of my previous posting, I have not looked at all my rss feeds, so this may be old hat, and I hope that there is a more detailed analysis out there somewhere. But I read in today’s Times that "romance loses allure after book lovers turn to crime". Or, as the standfirst puts it, "thrillers have beaten bodice rippers as library favourites but a children’s writer reigns supreme".

The story is that Jacqueline Wilson is the most borrowed author in British libraries, followed by Josephine Cox (romance?), Danielle Steele (ditto), James Patterson (crime), Mick Inkpen (children), Janet and Allan Ahlberg (ditto), John Grisham(legal thriller), Ian Rankin (crime), Roald Dahl (children) and Bernard Cornwell (historical fiction). (Categories by me). The absence of JK Rowling is explained by the article as being becuase she has not written enough books (she’s 74th apparently) – "Authors who do best in libraries have long backlists". I also think that the absence of JKR has something to do with the fact that her books sell so phenomenally well: people tend to own them rather than borrow them (especially as they are always so heavily discounted and there is a lot of cachet in reading them the instant they are published).

The top 10 "adult fiction" individual titles borrowed are by (from the top): Patricia Cornwell, Josephine Cox, John Grisham, Joanna Trollope, P J Tracy, Maeve Binchy, James Patterson (2), Ian Rankin, Kathy Reichs. I make that 7 crime/thrillers, 3 romantic (have not read any Cox so am not sure, but the title of her book is "Lovers and Liars", say no more). Not sure if it is fair to characterise Trollope as "romantic" but I can’t think of a category for her, other than that she’s probably more "mainstream" than "genre" fiction.

Patricia Cornwell and Kathy Reichs write "gruesome": books about forensic types who cut up bodies and are unfeasibly businesslike about it. Cornwell has definitely suffered badly from what Mapletree7 calls "BAD" (big author disease), and has failed to "sustain her series". Reichs I think does maintain her level, but I gave up on her books after the first three or so as I found them leaden. Patterson has crashed so much in quality that I am surprised anyone reads him now, his books are cardboard cut-outs these days (usually co-authored). I read Tracy’s first two books but won’t read any more, the basic premise of Monkeewrench seemed unrealistic and the character of Grace I found tiersome. Again, this author (actually a mother and daughter duo I believe) likes to be gruesome. That leaves Binchy, Trollope, Rankin and Grisham, all authors of many books which I continue to read (slightly less eagerly in the case of the former two. I have not been tempted by Binchy’s latest based on the reviews, although I’ve enjoyed some of her previous books). Trollope is a funny author, I usually keep her latest on my pile of books to read for ages, somehow reluctant to start, but once I do I usually enjoy her. The last one of hers I read was about a women who worked in an art gallery in Florida (or somewhere); I remember very little about it apart from enjoying it, although I do recall that the ending was very contrived. The one before that was about a very long marriage having broken up, that was good. Rankin and Grisham I do enjoy, I like Rankin’s character of Rebus and the secondary characters (the policeman who quit after a few of the early books and Siobhan Clarke in the later books). The plots are always interesting if over-convoluted, and the hard man Scottish ambience fun to read about vicariously. Bit cliched maybe, but a good read. Grisham has gone through over-stodgy patches in my opinion (the American disease, don’t write a 250-page novel when a 600 page-one will do). As I mentioned on an earlier post, I did like his latest book, more for his lyrical and probably unrealistic account of the Italian small-town life than for the sketch of a plot. Which leaves the unread Cox. (She will stay in that category from having seen some of her book jackets featured in varoius book club magazines).

Who would be the "adult fiction" authors in my own "most borrowed" list? For crime/thriller, I would say Harlan Coben and Michael Connelly are "big" authors who are far, far better than Reichs and Cornwell in terms of plots, paciness and — well, everything. Robert Crais, too, is a good mixture of plot, action and character-study. If you want pathologist-sleuths, Karin Slaughter or Tess Gerriston are far better than Cornwell/Reichs. My all-time favourite legal thriller is Philip Margolian, with Richard North Patterson a close second. Like Grisham, Margolian is strong on social and political comment, and writes readable, racy and unpretentious stories. RNP is also an absorbing read, but his books are far more campaigning, sometimes reading like a tract for the liberal (in the US sense) agenda, but that’s fine, I enjoy them.

My elder daughter is very keen on Jodi Picoult, who seems to write "moral ethical dilemma" books, eg what it is like to be born to provide bone marrow for an elder sibling who needs transplants. My younger daughter does like Jacqui Wilson (as did Cathy when younger), although JW is not Jenny’s absolute favourite. JW writes about subjects such as drug-addict mother, or baby abandoned in dustbin, or girl whose best friend is killed by a car, or girl whose best friend moves away, or children whose parents break up, who are fat, live in B&B accommodation, in children’s homes, have multi-fathers or tattooed mothers, etc — from the child’s perception. She seems to be able to get under the skin of these young people who live challenging or tragic lives, without being judgemental or trying to make moralising points, but without glamourising either.

Of course, Harry Potter has to be my all-time favourite, though, as he is my daughters’. HP mixes so may genres, but crime thriller is definitely a strong element.