I’ve read widely this year as usual, and have been tempted back to crime novels after a long period of not reading much of the genre. There are a handful of authors who I can thank for this revival of interest.
Dedicated genre readers can be greedy consumers, gobbling up novels by favourite authors as quickly as they can get their hands on them. In my teens I devoured Ruth Rendell, Patricia Cornwall and PD James whose back catalogues I could mine at the secondhand bookshop. Sue Graftons were rarer and more precious, but there was always the university library for Dorothy Sayers, Ngaio Marsh, Margery Allingham and Arthur Conan Doyle.
At a certain point in my life some of the class assumptions of the great British detective novelists started to bother me. Certain more modern novels I came to see as disappointingly sexist. And Sue Grafton, who was always perfect, slowed down to only one book every second year.
Then I had a couple of babies and lost my appetite for gore and suspense. It didn’t seem as though there was a lot of crime out there for me anymore, though I slowly made my way through the works of Alexander McCall Smith, Colin Cotterill’s Laotian ‘Dr Siri’ mysteries, and Nury Vittachi’s Feng Shui Detective novels. Kerry Greenwood’s Phrynne Fisher and Corinna Chapman also hit the spot at this time in my life, though I never read anythig so cosy that the detective was a cat.
Then the trail went cold. I found myself wanting something from the genre that I couldn’t find. It was probably a kind of literary or character-heavy crime fiction, something that captured really modern attitudes and situations. It might have been out there but I didn’t know where to look.
Then suddenly some fantastic books came out right here in Australia, and apparently I’m not alone in my thirst for new Australian crime fiction. My own new favourite authors are Dervla McTiernan, Christian White and Sulari Gentill. These are three Australians whose next novel I’ll be looking out for.
McTiernan, now based in Perth, brings modern Irish sensibility to the page in her Cormac McCarthy novels. Sulari Gentill takes us back to 1920s Sydney with her Rowland Sinclair novels, and Christian White’s two recent standalone novels, The Nowhere Child and The Wife and the Widow have been captivating psychological thrillers with satisfying structure and great female characters.
With authors rejecting sexism, racism and outdated assumptions about class in society, some of these more recent works are able to shine a light on problematic issues (past or present) while carrying the reader along for an exhilarating ride in the well-charted territory of the crime genre.