Weekly Geeks: Long-lasting authors

Having written the grand total of one "Weekly Geeks" post, I haven't yet spotted another set topic that I thought I could answer, until last week. The question is "what makes an author last?", and it is posed at the Weekly Geeks blog by Bernadette in Oz, of the brilliant Reactions to Reading blog. Bernadette highlights Agatha Christie, whose first novel was published in 1920 and her last in 1976 (the year she died). I think I'm right in believing that all these books, or if not all, most, are still in print today, a remarkable achievement.

Bernadette asks: "What do you think it is that gives your favourite long-lasting author an edge? Is longevity all to do with quality? Quantity? Style perhaps? Or luck?"

My favourite long-lasting crime author is Dashiell Hammett, without a doubt. I think Mystery Net sums up his appeal to me, in a nutshell: "Samuel Dashiell Hammett (1894-1961) is recognized as the first master of hard-boiled detective fiction. His lean writing style, cynical Hammett Hammett characters and complex plots brought a new energy to pulp magazines then went on to define the genre in movies, radio and television where the private eye series became an entertainment staple." Unlike Agatha Christie, he wrote only a few novels – The Dain Curse, The Thin Man, The Maltese Falcon, The Glass Key and Red Harvest – as well as short stories, often about the Continental Op, published for example in a volume called The Big Knockover. All of these are on my shelf, read many times over. I read my first Hammett novel when in my early teens and was instantly attracted both to the utter difference of the world it described compared with my own tedious existence, and to its essential darkness. (I also discovered John Steinbeck at about the same time, and read most of his novels – Cannery Row is still my favourite of his, but that short novel is a brilliant, poetic, funny, bursting Judgement celebration of life which I recommend highly to anyone who wants a saccharine-free antidote to the dark side on occasion). Although I read and enjoyed many other long-lasting American crime writers, for example Raymond Chandler, James Hadley Chase and Ross MacDonald, none of them quite touched the same nerve for me as Hammett.

Of crime novelists writing today, the two that spring to my mind as long-lived and highly enjoyable are Ruth Rendell/Barbara Vine, and Michael Connelly. Maybe Rendell/Vine is the author to whom Christie handed her torch, and similarly Connelly continues the true Hammett tradition. His 21 (soon 22) novels about Harry Bosch and/or his world in Los Angeles – the blue religion; speaking up for those who don't have a voice; the loneliness and poetry amid the urban sprawl; and the sadness of our modern "civilisation" – it's all there, and I think will continue to live on for many years to come.

Michael Connelly's first novel, The Black Echo, was published in 1990. Ruth Rendell's, From Doon With Death, was published in 1964. Both authors' novels are in print, and you'll see their books on sale in any good bookshop as well as readily available online.