I picked up a copy of Waterstone's magazine today (issue 29, 2008), which is free if you have a Waterstone's card or spend some threshold sum on books, otherwise £2.50. (Same as a copy of Nature for a student in Malaysia, I found out yesterday, but I digress.) I always enjoy reading this magazine, but this issue is particularly relevant, as it is a "Crime special", focused on the upcoming Harrogate festival (which I'm attending, by the way).
The main article is by Simon Kernick, chair of this year's programming committee. He writes about how the differences between American and British crime fiction are becoming less pronounced, in this genre which is "constantly reinventing itself" (don't ask me what that means). After discussing the crime-fiction staples of hard-boiled (noir), "cosy" and police procedurals, he highlights two particular trends in recent years, that of the serial killer book, kicked off by Thomas Harris's (excellent, in my opinion) Red Dragon and his even more commercially successful, but less good, Silence of the Lambs, in which the author's fascination with the gruesome began to get the better of him. Although this "phenomenon" started in the USA, it quickly spread to the UK, with Val McDermid and Mo Hayder cited as having made "memorable and highly successful use of serial killers in their novels".
The second trend, and one of more interest to me, is the "suburban" thriller. Simon Kernick writes about Harlan Coben, previously a writer of the Myron Bolitar sports-agent series, who had a major breakthrough with a stand-alone, Tell No One (now an excellent French film out on DVD, which I highly recommend), and which stimulated this corner of the oeuvre. Simon Kernick is particularly interested in domestic crime about ordinary people whose lives spiral out of control, as he writes it (Relentless). He also refers to Jeff Abbott, whom I haven't (yet) read, as the "new kid on the ordinary-guy-in-trouble block". One book he doesn't mention in this subgenre is Linwood Barclay's No Time for Goodbye, which has just been chosen for a Richard and Judy summer read. Douglas Kennedy's first two novels were superb examples, and Mary Higgins Clark, of course, has been churning these out for years.
After this main article, several novelists who will be attending Harrogate are interrogated on the subject: Stuart MacBride, Val McDermid, Mark Billingham, Robert Crais, Thomas H Cook and others are asked questions such as "What's the biggest difference between British and American crime novels?", and whether Britain is perceived as "home of cosy" and the US "more guns".
Unfortunately the article misses out mainland European authors (some of whom will also be attending Harrogate, I'm pleased to say). But never mind, it is a stimulating magazine, well-written and engaging, also featuring mini-reviews of new work by Andrea Maria Schenkel (The murder farm), Kate Atkinson (When will there be good news?), Irvine Walsh (Crime), Elizabeth George (Careless in red), and others.
Oh, and there is a lot of non-crime fiction too, including the news that Keira Knightley is not only playing an unrealistically thin Vera Philips with the equally unrealistically thin Sienna Miller as Caitlin Thomas in The Edge of Love (a movie based on Love Letters of Dylan Thomas), but she's also due to appear in The Duchess, based on the book by Amanda Foreman. It's about Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, who was a "rich and beautiful woman trapped by her fame and class in a loveless marriage to the Duke (Ralph Fiennes) , but desperately seeks true love. Georgiana rebels and falls for the Whig politician Charles, second Earl Grey, but fate is not so simple".