Barry Forshaw’s previous two books in this Pocket Essentials series published by Oldcastle, Nordic Noir and Euro Noir, have been excellent overviews of crime fiction coming from these regions. As a British reviewer, it was inevitable that he would turn his attention to the books coming out of this country but I can’t say I envied him the task. British crime writers are a diverse bunch and writing what is billed as a ‘definitive’ investigation was never going to be easy. Brit Noir, however, is an enjoyable and informative analysis of the genre with plenty of insightful comments on the authors included.
Forshaw divides Brit Noir into geographic regions. This not only mirrors the construction of his earlier books but also reinforces what he considers, in his introduction, to be one of the defining feature of the genre: vividly evoked locales. Splitting up authors like this will never please everyone and, as Forshaw acknowledges in his introduction, there are writers such as Ann Cleeves who set their books in more than one location. What was interesting was the chapter on British writers who choose to set their novels elsewhere: a substantial bunch some of whom reflect the British expat experience abroad in their books.
The other three key elements characterising British crime fiction identified are: strong plotting, literate, adroit writing and complex characterisation. It’ll be interesting to hear if readers agree with this conclusion. Forshaw rightly, in his introduction, mentions the legacy of the Golden Age writers. I was also conscious, while reading the book, of how the more recently deceased PD James and Ruth Rendell have influenced the writing of many of the authors included.
Forshaw gives both new and established authors a significant space in what, at 226 pages, is a short book and it’s an achievement to have included so many writers. Brit Noir is a book to dip into but also, as I did, to read from cover to cover. I’ve always considered Forshaw to be an honest reviewer and the book very much reflects his personality. It made the book a stimulating and, at times, amusing read.
I was delighted to included and am looking forward to other reviews which, I’m sure will generate much discussion.