Sunday, January 31, 2010

How do you choose what crime fiction books and authors to read?

Along with the large selection of upcoming and recently-released crime and thriller books I am regularly sent to review for various print and online publications, my rapidly-growing collection of out-of-print and hard-to-find Kiwi crime/thriller titles I am amassing courtesy of various second-hand outlets, and picking up and reading books (where time permits - now much less than before) from longtime 'favourite' crime writers of mine, there is a fourth stream of 'to read' books that I find myself occasionally dipping into.

That stream, so to speak, is an informal list of crime writers I have in my head, that I really want to get around to reading. Authors who have had some impact on the genre, or have been read by many fans over the past decades, that I should really sample for myself, in terms of not only perhaps finding further 'read-everything-they've written' favourites, but also improving my crime fiction 'education', for want of a better phrase. Authors I have on this list include the likes of Robert B. Parker, Sarah Paretsky, Sue Grafton, Joseph Wambaugh, Ed McBain, Ross Macdonald, and Tony Hillerman.

I have read many classic, and otherwise 'important' authors, from Conan Doyle and Poe through to Marsh and Christie, to Chandler and Hammett. I have read Sjowall and Wahloo, as well as several of their Schwedenkrimi descendants. I have even managed to get my hands on some books not easily available in New Zealand, and gone out of my way to try new authors where time and accessibility permit (e.g. Mark Zuehlke and William Deverell when I was in Canada in 2008). Overall I feel I have read far more, and more widely, than many crime fiction fans (who tend to be quite 'tribal' in their reading, finding authors they like and sticking with them), but still, there are so many, many, many authors and books I haven't read. Many of them that I would probably love.

Hence, my fourth stream of 'to be read' books and authors. An attempt, however small, to avoid complacency and sticking to what is known, and try not only new authors, but also older authors that are new to me. This has led me to the book I am reading (and enjoying thusfar) right now: A THIEF OF TIME by Tony Hillerman. Hillerman is an author I have been meaning to read ever since I first found out a bit more about him a couple of years ago. I even got out his debut, THE BLESSING WAY, from the library last year, but it was returned (overdue) unread, because I had far too many new books to read and review. So when I was in a second-hand store while visiting my old hometown of Richmond, Nelson last week, searching for lesser-known Kiwi crime, I also ended up buying a copy of A THIEF OF TIME.

I am also going to use this book as my "US" book for Dorte's 2010 Global Reading Challenge - as Hillerman is a new US author for me, and the book also has a unique US setting (Navajo reservations and surrounds) which fits in nicely with trying different geographies, crime fiction-wise.

Hillerman's eighth novel, A THIEF OF TIME (1988) begins at a moonlit Indian ruin—where "thieves of time" ravage sacred ground in the name of profit. A noted anthropologist vanishes while on the verge of making a startling, history-altering discovery. Then at an ancient burial site, amid stolen goods and desecrated bones, two corpses are discovered, shot by bullets fitting the gun of the missing scientist. There are modern mysteries buried in despoiled ancient places. And as blood flows all too freely, Navajo Tribal Policemen Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee must plunge into the past to unearth an astonishing truth and a cold-hearted killer.

I am about a third of the way through, and really enjoying Hillerman's writing, and the story, thusfar. If the book continues in the current vein, I think I'll be adding Hillerman to my list of favourite authors, and trying to read many more of his books. If only I can find the time...

Do you have a list of authors you'd really like to read but haven't got around to yet? Do you like reading 'older' authors as well as new, contemporary titles? How do you decide what crime fiction to read - do you keep to favourite authors? Try a new one only when you've run out of their books? Go off friend recommendations? Listen to reviewers, bestseller lists, awards and other 'media' about books and authors? Thoughts and comments welcome.


  1. It was probably only a couple of years ago though that I really started to branch out to new writers - until then I relied fairly heavily on authors I knew and liked as these were readily available in local stores. But I was getting disgruntled with some of my favourites (Cornwell, Reichs, Paretsky and yes even the dreaded James Patterson etc) and started looking further afield. Last year of the 120+ books I read, slightly more than half were by new to me authors and so far this year I've kept up that percentage and hope to continue to do so. I use a mixture blogs, the discussions at various real world and online book clubs that I belong to and the odd reading challenge to keep my TBR pile and wishlist interesting.

    I've actually got a different Tony Hillerman book next up on my TBR pile. I've never read him before but a post at Margot Kinberg's blog made me think I'd enjoy the book and I was able to get a copy through book mooch. I've also got a book you talked about on your blog near the top of my TBR pile - Lindy Kelly's Bold Blood - she's another new to me author that I would never have heard of via 'traditional' means and when a local online store had a sale I figured I'd give her a go. That's kind of the way my reading goes these days - I don't imagine each new author I try will turn into a favourite (at least I hope not as I'll have to quit my job just to keep up) but I do enjoy the variety of writing styles, sub-genres and themes.

  2. Craig - I am so glad you're enjoying A Thief of Time. I'm a Hillerman fan and have been for quite some time, so I'm biased, but I really did like that one.

    You ask a really interesting question about that "fourth stream" of books, too, and how we decide what books to read. Of course, whenever a favorite author of mine releases a new book, that's recommendation enough for me to at least try the book. I also have a few sub-genres I like especially, so when someone recommends a book in one of those sub-genres, that's another source of reading for me. I also learn quite a lot from folks like you, Bernadette at Reactions to Reading, Maxine at Petrona, Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise, Norman at Crime scraps, Dorte at DJs Krimiblog and Martin Edwards,and other book bloggers who offer fine reviews of books.

  3. Craig, Tony Hilllerman is the only crime fiction my wife reads as she is fascinated by Navajo culture.
    She absolutely hates flying but agreed to a very long flight to Phoenix so that we could tour some of Hillerman country. The distance between London to Phoenix is only about 200 miles less than London-Shanghai, and if you fly BA economy you can believe it.
    But it was worth it to see Acoma Pueblo, Window Rock and Canyon Du Chelly.

  4. Craig that’s quite an interesting question. I’ve been toying with the idea to write something also about how do I choose my readings. Meantime I take this opportunity to thanks the bloggers I regularly follow for broadening the scope of my readings. In particular Dorte’s Global Challenge has given us the opportunity to learn more about authors all around the world, but I will not be fair if I don’t mention other bloggers like, Kerrie, Maxine, Karen, Norman, Peter, Elisabeth, Bernadette, Martin, Glenn, Rob and yourself. Have fun.

  5. For the last 13 or so years, I have kept a book journal: jotting down the names of authors and the titles of books I want to read. I come across authors/books through articles, reviews, blog posts, conversations with friends, random pick-ups from the library shelves, etc. Once a year or so, I go back through my previous book journals (each one tends to last about 18 months, until I run out of space) to see if there are books that I couldn't find back then but have found now. I don't buy many new books, but I'm avid for used book stores and the ever-popular Friends of the Library book sales (just dropped $20 there yesterday). I read all over the spectrum, fiction, non-fiction, classics, pulp, pot-boilers, but mysteries are my favorites.

  6. It is so easy to acquire books to read, and far less easy to find the time to read them all, even if one read 24/7!

    My reading choices are divided into pre and post internet. Pre-internet, I was always in at least one book club (eg BCA), I used the library all the time (prowling the "recently returned" shelves or reserving books I'd read reviewed in the papers) and browsed bookshops.

    Post internet - first I used Amazon to broaden my reading choices (their recommend feature doesn't always work but quite often does), then I discovered book blogs, and specifically sites like Euro Crime which are a rich trove. I also get offered books for review by Euro Crime or by publishers and authors. I still read reviews in the papers (but now am more likely to bookmark in Amazon for when the pb comes out rather than go to the library), and still browse bookshops, though when I browse bookshops I don't usually find anything I didn't already know about.