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Paolo

Why are American crime writers better than their UK counterparts?

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Is it just me or do US writers carry a bit more heft than British writers? I know there’s dross produced in the States (Patterson springs to mind as a culprit) and I’m sure they produce authors as anodyne as our very own snore merchant, Robert Goddard, but there really are much more interesting crime novelists emanating from America at the moment. Maybe it’s the hugeness of the country or the fact they have more guns. Anyone have any ideas why this is so?

 

Anyway, my top three crime/thriller authors are:

1) George Pelecanos – writes rich, savage books about Washington DC. Start with the Big Blowdown or the Sweet Forever.

Great - if you like depth and brilliant dialogue.

Not so good - for those who like endless twists.

 

2) Carl Hiaasen – incredibly funny satirist who writes brilliant revenge comedies about the despoliation of Florida.

Great – if you like funny, smart writing.

Not so good – if you’re the chief executive of an oil company.

 

3) James Lee Burke – lyrical, evocative writer who can also tell a great story. Bases his books in New Orleans and Montana. Doesn’t like oil companies either.

Great – if you like your writing rich and chewy but need a great tale too.

Not so good – If polysyllables make your teeth hurt.

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US writers get the hype - it's cheaper for UK publishers and book groups to promote established US writers. But homegrown - you want dark, lyrical and multi-stranded, try Danuta Reah. Silent Playgrounds is a disturbing exploration of crime travelling through generations, and Bleak Water is probably one of the best page turners I have ever read. The writing is amazing. If you like things a bit softer, what about Stephen Booth - his series is excellent - the writing is strong and the characters are genuinely interesting. Stuart Pawson is another good, underrated UK writer. I think these three have got caught up in the odd Brit attitude that if it isn't set in London, it's parochial, but all of these books are bigger than that. They just don't get the hype. Try them - see what you think.

Rhi

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I'm with Paolo on this one. If you ask me, the US is the place to go for the best crime writing, and has been since the days of Hammett and Chandler.

 

I guess part of it is the danger/violence element (guns etc.), plus Americans are much better than we Brits at paranoia, an essential element of good crime fiction - just look at the world around you for proof.

 

Americans are also going to seem a little bit more exotic to British sensibilities too - US bookworm friends of mine praise UK crime writing more than their own.

 

I also like the noir writing style pioneered by the two guys above (although Chandler grew up in the UK and was educated at Dulwich College, so I guess we could just about claim him as one of ours :) ).

 

In the right hands, the writing can be just dazzling, as in the hands of the current Daddy of the genre, James Ellroy. Check out "L.A. Confidential" or "The Black Dahlia" to see what I mean. Alternatively, go back to Chandler. I read "Farewell, My Lovely" last year and it just blew me away.

 

I like James Lee Burke too, though his style is entirely different. Robicheaux novels are so atmospheric, you can almost taste the catfish. And Hiaasen the funniest out there as well, plus the environmentalist outrage the drives his novels appeals to this greeny too.

 

I'm not saying there aren't great crime writers in this country - Ian Rankin and Jake Arnott spring to mind as favourites, plus all crime writers must doff their caps to Conan Doyle.

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Aha! Someone who likes Ellroy I see. I tried him, didn't like his style at all, and have passed the book around but with no takers, so it's not just me. I found after 60 pages that about 30 characters had been introduced and I didn't care about any of them, and was thoroughly confused as to who was what. Perhaps his books need to be read in big chunks as opposed to being able to dip in during the week with longer sessions at weekend which is the pattern I follow. I probably started on a Monday! Perhaps I should try again.

 

Anyway, all these names being recommended, and I've never heard of most of them. So much to look forward to, and so many shelves to be filled. Love it!

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I guess Ellroy's an acquired taste. You have to like hardboiled, noir crime writing and he's the most extreme in the genre I've ever come across - so dark, so obsessive and so intense.

 

Some of his recent stuff, such as "The Cold Six Thousand" does verge on self-parody - lots of two word, rat-a-tat machine gun sentences and extraordinarily labyrinthine plotting. His writing is pretty challenging, both in content and style, but the two titles I suggested are good entry points for the beginner.

 

Also, if you empathise with most of Ellroy's characters there may well be something very wrong with you. Even the initially virtuous, like Ed Exley in "L.A. Confidential", can be dragged down into the mire of corruption, violence and brutality. Ellroy's is a harsh world and I'll admit to sometimes feeling positively grubby after reading his work.

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I was wondering the same thing about Brit crime v U.S. It just has to do with the culteral diversity of the states, so many different ethnic groups to provide different reasons for getting mad at the world, as well as providing intriguing villains.

Perhaps as England accepts more awfully sinister immigrants we'll have the same material.(Think of drowning cockle fishers in Morcombe Bay)

Maybe old fashioned, but the writer I still revere(Even above dear Elmore Leonard) is John D MacDonald, who, with the most liberal credentials, explored America's culteral diversity to great effect.And yes, U.S. crime writing is on a different plane to the brits. Maybe one honourable exception, Michael Dibdin -but only when doing Italy.

One note of dissent, Jamie Lee Bourk writes by numbers.

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With you on Elmore Leonard, waters, the man is a master in the field.

 

Your point about cultural diversity is a good one too - where else would you get writers as diverse in style and background as, to pick four at random, Tony Hillerman's novels about the Navajo Tribal Police, Joe R. Lansdale's droll Texans Hap and Leonard, Walter Mosley's Easy Rawlins books set in black L.A. and Janet Evanovich's hysterical Stephanie Plum series, as well as everyone mentioned so far in this thread?

 

Not read John D. MacDonald, any advice for the beginner?? He sounds as if he might appeal to this Americophile woolly liberal.

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Quote:

Perhaps as England accepts more awfully sinister immigrants we'll have the same material.(Think of drowning cockle fishers in Morcombe Bay)

 

I have just read Night Angels by Danuta Reah (recommended on this thread, I think). It is well written, a great page turner, intellectually interesting - forensic linguistics - and about illegal immigrants and their and our dilemmas. It is an altogether worthwhile book but, for me, it still doesn't have the same oomph as an equally well written American crime novel. Perhaps it has something to do with the unfamiliar and maybe the influence of American movies helps. I wonder if North American readers find our crime novels more interesting than their own? Is it partly a matter of geography?

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Quote:

I wonder if North American readers find our crime novels more interesting than their own? Is it partly a matter of geography?

 

I think your point is very valid, BrumB. I can only go by the Americans I know, but they rate P.D. James, Ruth Rendell and Ellis Peters at least as highly as any of their own talent. Not saying I agree with them, mind. :D

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I posted a question on Bookxing asking which readers preferred - US or British Crime. It didn't raise much interest but the few replies were fairly even-handed with, what seemed to me to be, a slight preference for British crime by US readers.

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Growing up I read exclusively English crime, but now I prefer American.

 

Pelecanos is of course the king. I love all his, especially the Stefanos trilogy (quartet?). Must have a re-read of his work over the next year. And I'm also working through Chandler again (though I never got with Hammett. I've Teh Dain Curse on my TBR pile for ages).

 

And to agree with othesr, both Elmore Leonard and Carl Hiaasen are high on my list. I'd add the Kinkster up there with them too.

 

Not that I hate English crime. I'll read Ruth Rendell from the library. The last authors I bought and loved were MC Beaton (the new Agatha Raisin novels) and the superb Simon Brett. Now he's on top form just now with the Fetherling(?) mysteries. His whole back catalogue is worth a look too. And Brookmyre. And Mike Ripley. Some good stuff all over the place.

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I know it may look from my previous posts as if I've got something against UK crime writers, but that's not true at all.

 

To pick five at random, I liked what I've read of Chris Brookmyre, Mark Timlin, Jake Arnott, Ian Rankin and Lindsey Davis.

 

Chris, try "The Thin Man" or "The Glass Key" for Hammett, although I confess I've not read what is supposed to be his masterpiece, "The Maltese Falcon".

 

I tried Pelecanos's "The Big Blowdown" and couldn't get on with it at all, especially disappointing as I thought it would definitely be the sort of thing I'd like.

 

...and I've got some Kinky on my TBR pile, a Jewish C&W singer, I reckon what's not to like?

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What a toss up! If anyone was to look at my Bookshelf on Bookcrossing you would notice that I crave British and American crime writers. Although, when I am out at the thrift shops I do try to find the Brit ones over the American. I think personally, that I like the language better. It's almost as if I can hear the different dialects coming from the Brit police. I like the terminology used, the names of the characters and how "small-town" they are often portrayed to be. When I want "down and dirty" I switch to American.

But to throw a third option in the loop....I have recently discovered a Canadian crime author who almost gives me a mix between the two. James Hawkins used to live in England and is now back in Canada. As much as I have never been a big Canadian supporter, I give two big thumbs up to him.

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I really like Peter Robinson as a good British author and Ian Rankin is brilliant. I prefer British stuff cos it's familiar and feels more gritty. US crime authors always seem so intent on telling us exactly what they ate in the local seafood 'joint'. I find British stuff more gritty and less glamorous, but that's maybe cos it's on home turf.

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I find that a lot of American authors give me an insight into a culture that can be extremely alien to me. Inspite of the obvious spread of American culture, really good American authors transport me to a whole new time and place. I prefer some American authors because of this as it makes it easier for me to escape into the story. That said I find myself overlaying their descriptions on to places that I know and adapting them in my mind.

 

Sorry, having read that back it all seems a bit spacy and rambling. Joe R Lansdale's books are a good example of a writer who transports me. Apart from great characters such as Hap and Leonard, he writes with a sparse lyricism about contemporary rural America. It is an area that is not often featured in TV or film, apart from in horror films. However, he gives you a feel for the struggles people face in towns that are literally and figuratively miles from the big cities.

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I prefer British crime writers. Peter Robinson is probably my favourite, or Mark Billingham, and I quite like Ian Rankin. I'm not so keen on American crime writers, but I LOVE American tv crime series, whereas British series about crime do nothing for me whatsoever.

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Hi All

This is a terrific thread and the posts I have read are most interesting.Over the years I have moved away from American mystery writers ... I personally don't like schtick in a thriller ... I've read Grafton, Muller, Mitchell, even Ellen Hart and Jeffrey Deaver. I have given up on them because IMHO they don't write especially well and they seem to keep writing the same books over and over just like Robert Parker.

 

The authors most of you listed are in a different category from those above. I read them and enjoy them but I still look to the Brits and to translations of books from other countries. Those I find offer the best writing. Plot, character aside I enjoy words, allusions, symbols and a puzzle. I know that's my personal opinion and i am not pushing it on anyone.

 

If you are looking for new, exceptional writers not already listed i recommend Patricia HIghsmith, Henning Mankell, MInette Walters, Ian Rankin, Donna Leon we all can make very long lists so I'll stop here.

 

GERBAM

ENJOY

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If you are looking for new, exceptional writers not already listed i recommend Patricia HIghsmith, Henning Mankell, MInette Walters, Ian Rankin, Donna Leon we all can make very long lists so I'll stop here.

 

GERBAM

ENJOY

 

Hi, Gerbam.

 

On the thread 'Crime, Thrillers and Mysteries:Authors and Books' most of these good writers have been discussed. I'll have to get round to Patricia Highsmith: she's the only one you've mentioned that I've never tried.

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Chuntzy

Thank you for the heads up ... I am so new here I have not had a chance to review the threads.

I think you will enjoy HIghsmith

GERBAM

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I think I won't dare say which country I think is better at crime writing, but my favourite British crime writer is Christopher Brookmyre. He was mentioned earlier in the thread a couple times. His books are hard hitting yet hilarious. I would say you should give a bit of space between reading them rather than reading them back to back, but do give him a try. I think my personal favourite would be one of A Big Boy Did It and Ran Away or One Fine Day in the Middle of the Night. I have his lastest A Tale Etched in Bload and Hard Black Pencil on the shelf, not read yet.

 

I've seen him at Edinburgh Book Festival and he's surprisingly down to earth, given the characters and situations he creates. Very nice accent too. I'm a bit partial to the Scots though.

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Very interesting thread! I don't think it ever would have occurred to me that American crime writers are better. I suppose it's a matter of taste but, to me, it's always gone without saying that British writers do it better.

 

I agree with GERBAM - American writers seem to add far too much "schtick" (giggle) into their writing.

 

Agatha Christie, Josephine Tey, Margery Allingham, Dorothy L. Sayers, Ruth Rendell, P.D. James ... it's not just British writers, but British women writers who stand out to me.

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