For the month of May, I made a resolution to read books written before I was born (1988, for those of you who are a little behind). I aimed for five, and only managed four; but the four that I got through were absolute crackers. I met four incredibly different and unique characters, each navigating the murky waters of crime in their own special ways. While I’ve written four separate reviews of the books, I’d like to write something about what crime novels from this era can teach us some twenty-odd years later. Believe it or not, there’s a lot to learn!
I suppose the thing that separates crime novels from the late 80s to now is the distinct lack of technological detail in the older books. Everyone knows super sleuths Sherlock Holmes and Miss Marple, who got by mostly on their keen eye for detail and their never-say-die attitude to solving mysteries without relying on technical forensic evidence. In a way, the highly in depth, gritty police procedurals or forensics novels came into fashion not long after I was born and, indeed, could have already been around prior to that. My point is that the gruesome and detailed novels are everywhere these days; what really seems to be missing from the crime marketplace are well-written, compelling tales where the ‘sleuth’ is a flawed yet loveable character without any formal training. Readers really get behind those characters and want them to succeed, and that’s why they are traditionally so popular.
Everyone faces mysteries in their lives – sometimes it’s no more than “where did I put the keys?” But sometimes things are more complicated than that, and we find ourselves tangled in a web of unknowns and deceptions, and somehow have to find a way out. I saw shades of myself in the characters I read about this month. They would say something, or do something, and I would find myself thinking along the same lines. Not that I can’t do that with more modern crime solvers, but there’s something inherently special about an ordinary, average person doing the extraordinary. Perhaps, only for a short time, the reader can live vicariously through a fictional character. In any case, the amateur sleuth is a crowd-pleaser, and the delightfully talented authors that I read in May ensured their characters were quirky without being irritating, flawed without being emotionally damaged, and likeable without being sickly sweet.
I have the upmost respect for an author who can create an exciting, almost unputdownable novel without gruesome details, without sex, without specialist police knowledge… Just an ordinary person, ordinary knowledge, doing amazing things. It’s elementary, dear readers, that sometimes the best things are the simple things.