Tuesday, March 8, 2016

What constitutes greatness when it comes to crime writing?

I was thinking today, International Women's Day, about all the fantastic female crime writers out there. From the classic giants like Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh, PD James, Ruth Rendell, Patricia Highsmith, through to a diverse array of modern-day goods and greats.

It's often said that female authors are overlooked in comparison to their male counterparts (of course there are always high-profile exceptions like JK Rowling, Gillian Flynn, and Paula Hawkins, though it is notable Rowling chose to initialise her name, as the likes of PD James did in the past, when she was first starting out). For myself, I try to read as widely and diversely as possible. Looking back, of the sixteen crime novels and novellas I've read so far in 2016, eight have been written by women. So that's not bad - more importantly, I've enjoyed each and every one of those tales, and would recommend them to keen crime readers. My latest 'new to me' discovery is an absolute cracker, Naomi Hirahara's SAYONARA SLAM, coming out in May. I'd not previously heard of Hirahara, even though she'd won an Edgar Award for an earlier book in her series featuring Mas Arai, an elderly Japanese gardener and Hiroshima survivor living in California. I'd highly recommend her.

But I digress. I was also thinking about what constitutes 'greatness' in crime writing. How much of it is book sales? Awards? Critical acclaim? Longevity? Influence on the genre and those that follow? In honor of International Women's Day, here's a fun question: who would be the four modern-day, living, Queens of Crime? The four 'greatest' female mystery writers around in recent times?

Back in the Golden Age, Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh, Margery Allingham, and Dorothy Sayers were known as the Queens of Crime (although there were other terrific female authors, like Josephine Tey, around too). Who would be their modern-day equivalents, now that icons like PD James and Ruth Rendell have passed on? If we were to create a 'Mount Rushmore' of modern mystery writing, as the Americans might term it, whose four visages would end up there, representing greatness?

I have my own thoughts about this, but I'm very curious to hear what others may think.

You can see an interesting list of 13 modern-day greats who might be in the discussion here. It's a rankable or voteable list, with information about each, so dive in and have your say. I'll be keeping an eye on the results, and reporting back later.

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