This week's Bookseller (28 May) has a page (40) devoted to crime-fiction statistics. Well, that sounds a bit grandiose – actually the page features two tables based on UK sales figures. Worth sharing, I thought. The first table is the "top 20 selected Scandinavian crime/thriller bestsellers (4 weeks ending 15/05/10)". There is a slight ambiguity here over the word "selected", but the bottom line is that Stieg Larsson takes
positions 1 to 4 for the Millennium Trilogy (3 and 4 are split between the "normal" and the film tie-in versions of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo).
Eight of the remaining slots are taken by Henning Mankell: The Italian Shoes (5) (not a crime novel, I've previously heard); Faceless Killers (9), The Dogs of Riga (10), The Pyramid (14), The Fifth Woman (17), Sidetracked (18) and Before the Frost (19), all Kurt Wallander novels, and The White Lioness (13). The remaining slots are taken by Jo Nesbo (The Snowman, 6; The Redeemer, 11; The Redbreast, 12; Nemesis, 16; and The Devil's Star 20); Yrsa Sigurdardottir (pictured, My Soul to Take, 7); Johan Theorin (The Darkest Room, 8) and Camilla Lackberg (The Preacher, 15).
The "units", Bookseller-speak for number sold in the 4-week time-period, vary from 123,384 for The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest at no 1, to 624 for The Devil's Star at no 20. In fact, the Stieg Larsson books account for something over 310,000 sales between them, then we plunge to 4,000 for the next on the list (Italian Shoes), and 1,500 for the next (The Snowman). So although the list is nice to see, more than half of the books on it each sold between 600 and 1,200 copies over 4 weeks, a tidy amount, although not exactly creating any millionaires.
The second list is attempting to uncover "modern classics" of the genre. The criteria are that original publication was more than 5 years ago, and the sales period analysed is the same, the 4 weeks ending 15 May 2010. On the list of 20, Lee Child features eight times, at nos 1-6, 9 and 10, selling more than 13,000 copies of these titles during the identified 4 weeks. The other authors are: Chris Ryan (7, Zero Option); Kathy Reichs (8, Fatal Voyage and 16, Deadly Decisions); Joseph Heller (11, Catch-22, not sure that I would have included that title in this genre); Martina Cole (12, The Ladykiller and 17, The
Know); John Grisham (13, The Partner, 20, The Last Juror); Karin Slaughter (14, Kisscut); Suzanne Berne* (15, A Crime in the Neigbourhood); Alexander McCall Smith (18, The No 1. Ladies' Detective Agency); and Andy McNab (19, Dark Winter). Sales of each title varied from 570 to 1,200.
My verdict on these choices as a reader? The Scandinavian list is great and I'd recommend any of those (there are a couple I haven't read but shall be reading). The "modern classic" list, on the other hand, I would not recommend. According to the Bookseller, many of the titles there have had a boost by being on 3 for 2 offers and/or heavy discounting during the 4 weeks. If I were to think of all the crime novels I have read over the past 5 years, very few if any of these would be on my list of favourites. I'd recommend trying Michael Connelly, Harlan Coben, Val McDermid and others for a "bestselling commercial formula" if that's what you are after, rather than this mix of mainly sub-gangster/sub-forensic "thrillers". Lee Child and John Grisham (better on place than plot) are pretty solid, Karin Slaughter has been good up until her last couple or so, and Alexander McCall Smith is very good at a somewhat gentler level than the others on the list.
I would have preferred to see a longer timeframe than 4 weeks in May to look at the 5-year-old (and more) "keepers", because of the skew provided by special offers and re-releases. But, what you see is what we get (because the Nielsen book sales tracker that provides the data for the Bookseller's tables is a proprietary system that the likes of you and me cannot query).
*I don't recollect having heard of Suzanne Berne before, and her books look interesting, so another author to check out! See the Guardian's review of The Ghost at the Table, for example. A Crime in the Neighbourhood, the novel in the bestselling list, was her debut and won the Orange Prize for fiction in 1999. I have struggled somewhat with previous Orange Prize winners, but this one looks worth a go.