How many plots are there?

I spent a most enjoyable evening at Waterstones in Kingston last night with Karen of Euro Crime website and blog, at Killer Reads, an event devised by Chris Simmons of CrimeSquad. Yaba Badoe, Chris Carter, N J (a.k.a. Natasha) Cooper, R J Ellory, Ariana Franklin, Johan Theorin (fresh from his CWA dagger John Creasey/New Blood award the night before for Echoes from the Dead), Cathi Unsworth, Nicola Upson and Laura Wilson all read from their novels and talked about their writing as well as the usual topics about the appeal of the genre. One inevitable result is that I now have even more books for my reading list.

Among the interesting perspectives provided was one by R J Ellory, in jetlagged yet energetic mode, who emphatically opined that there are only three kinds of British crime fiction (cosy village murder, gritty urban police procedural, and I forget the third!), which is why he writes novels based in different times and places in the United States, where there are (in his view) far more regional and temporal differences. I find this point of view exceedingly unconvincing. Probably so did everyone else, but they were too polite to say so. He also went on to say that there are only three kinds of author, but I have even less memory of those generalizations – other than it is good to aspire to write a book like To Kill a Mockingbird or In Cold Blood.

It was amusing in this context to read Sharon Wheeler's post about Nick Hay's selection procedure for books to read for review for Reviewing the Evidence. "Oh look, here's a mad monk running around mittel Europe in search of a religious icon. And there's another, with added Freemasons at no extra cost. Yes, and there's yet another, with a beautiful woman to help our intrepid hero track down said mad monk. If the writer's feeling particularly radical, there'll be a mysterious library in there somewhere." Many other books fall into a couple of other categories: Mr Average in small-town America avenging himself on threat to family; and thrillers involving former military heroes charging round the United States.