The decline and fall of English crime fiction?
In a fairly provocative essay in today’s Guardian by noted crime fiction critic Marcel Berlins, he asks that very question, pretty much, in light of the CWA’s decision to restrict Gold Dagger entries to novels originally written in English:
[T]he questions that matter most have been quietly not asked. Is British and American crime writing in decline? Are the two countries that have dominated the genre for more than a century losing it? Are Italians, French, German, Spanish and Nordic authors writing better crime books? (Notice I didn’t say Scandinavians, which would have excluded Iceland.)
I’ve been reviewing crime fiction for more than 20 years, and I do believe that the English (though not Scottish or American) crime fiction scene is in difficulties. It’s mainly a problem with age. PD James is in her 80s, Ruth Rendell, 75. Many other first-division writers are in or nudging their 60s. But where are the good young authors to take their place? There are some, of course, but my point is that in the crime fiction field England has lost its supremacy. It is no fluke that so many crime novels by other European writers are occupying shortlists and winners’ podiums. The best of them are very good indeed. What is sad is that the CWA has reacted to the new realities, albeit under commercial pressure, by, in effect, accepting that if we can’t win the prize in fair competition, we’ll just eliminate some of those who might beat us. That can only devalue an award that, up to now, has been considered one of the two highest international tributes in crime fiction.
Of course, as someone who created an entire guest issue of the late, lamented Plots with Guns with the idea that UK crime fiction was healthier than ever — certainly much more so than what’s published in the US — I’m not totally sure I buy the argument, but let’s open up the backblog, shall we?