Ever since Oedipus instigated the search for the murderer of Thebes’ previous King we have been drawn to stories of crime detection.
Today there are so many sub-genres – detective fiction, the whodunnit, the forensic thriller, the legal thriller, the heist or caper story, not to mention the spoof – and each seems to have its own following. Specialist web-sites promote all types, see Crime Fiction Lover, or Classic Crime Fiction (which, incidentally, even has a sub-section on Golfing Mysteries – that’s Golfing, not Gothic, which comes below it in the list).
At least one national daily newspaper, The Guardian, carries, in its digital format, a monthly round-up of new crime books. There are a selection too, of crime writing festivals, from Harrogate’s Crime Writing Festival, through Bloody Scotland to Bristol’s Crimefest – tagline ‘The pen is bloodier than the sword’. I could have cited many more. The Crime Writers Association gains more and more members. None of this is surprising given Neilsen’s report that the crime/thriller/adventure category now takes a larger share of the UK market than any other genre.
Part of reason for this must be laid at the door of the television adaptation, especially long running series like Poirot, Rebus or Morse/Lewis/Endeavour. The alacrity with which publishing houses and the estates of authors no longer with us are resurrecting some authors’ most famous characters is evidence both of enduring interest and commercial opportunity. So, 2016 saw the publication of the publication of the first Poirot novel to appear since Agatha Christie’s death in 1976 (The Monogram Murders by Sophie Hannah).
One of the things many of these fictions have in common is an enduring sense of place. There is Morse’s Oxford, Marple’s St Mary Mead, Rebus’ Edinburgh and Holmes’ London. This is one of the themes which I think might arise in the discussion between Mark Lawson, the journalist, critic, broadcaster and author, currently presenting Mark Lawson Talks to… on BBC Radio 4 and Vaseem Khan, writer of the best-selling Baby Ganesh Detective Agency crime series and Director at UCL’s Department of Security & Crime Science.
Khan’s Inspector Chopra stories are set in a vibrant, modern Mumbai, where we come across diamonds and antique hotels, as well as Bollywood stars, along side dreadful poverty, corruption and political skullduggery, while Lawson sets his latest novels, The Deaths and The Allegations in a recognisable contemporary England, rural or metropolitan, of modern elites. Both writers peel back the outer layers of these societies as the mysteries unfold, revealing the hypocrisies and darkness within.
Motivation comes under the microscope, belief and deception – self or otherwise – and how people see the same things differently (most particularly in The Allegations). Inspector Chopra is incorruptible amidst the Mumbai grime and graft, but Lawson’s characters are much more ambivalent.
Come along and listen to them talk about it. Crime Land takes place at 2pm on 12th May at Omnibus Theatre and tickets cost £10 (£8 concessions).
A similar version of this article appeared on http://www.thestorybazaar.com on 7th March 2018.