The Guardian and The Observer are running one of those perennially popular lists, this time "1,000 books you must read". First they did love, and today they have got onto crime – so I thought I'd better read it (thanks to Karen for the heads-up of which day to watch out for). From the introduction:
"It's obvious which genres the Agatha Christie whodunnit and the 007 spy novel belong to, but between them are sub-genres — courtroom duel, psychological thriller, suspense novel, crime caper, criminal-centred fiction — not so easily classified. Part two of this seven-part series tries to reflect as much of the crime spectrum as possible, as well as the regularity with which literary novelists have made evildoers their theme. The difference? The latter break genre rules, typically eliminating the hero who solves or prevents crime. And they usually write more stylishly; but the recent rise of the literary crime fiction epitomised by PD James has made that distinction less clear."
And, er, that is basically it. I found the paragraph above (the extent of the "introduction") rather lazy, in that it makes a proposition of the difference between genre and literary crime, then states that this proposition does not always hold. (As it indeed does not: a "genre" example is given but one could equally give literary examples that stick to the "rules", for example Stef Penny and Diane Setterfield.)
What follows is an alphabetical listing of brief paragraphs about a slew of "crime" books, written by many different contributors: part 1, part 2 and part 3. Each entry carries a link to the Guardian bookshop, so you can readily buy the book even if you don't get any context or other reason for why it was included in the list. For example, Ian McEwan's Enduring Love is followed by Henning Mankell's Sidetracked. Mark Twain's Pudd'nhead Wilson comes immediately before Barbara Vine's A Fatal Inversion.
A messy exercise in marketing, is my conclusion. Try it if you want to go from Algren (The Man with the Golden Arm) to Zola (Terese Raquin) in a jerky series of disconnected paragraphs, but if you prefer some more thoughtful reasoning, try reading some proper book reviews, which can be found in abundance on the Internet, often collected in sites like Euro Crime, Reviewing the Evidence, CrimeTime, Shotsmag, Tangled Web, Mystery Readers Journal, Crimesquad and so on. You might prefer an analysis in book form, in which case I recommend Barry Forshaw's Rough Guide to Crime Fiction – or for an online "quick read", there have been plenty of similar articles in other newspapers, for example The Times's attempt to capture the "best 50 crime writers". One might disagree with some of the choices made in these compilations, but at least there is a reasoning provided for the selection, instead of a hodge-podge of mini-adverts.