Review: Barry Forshaw – Brit Noir

9781843446408Barry 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.

Review: Barry Forshaw – Euro Noir

Euro noirBarry Forshaw has published a number of reference books on crime and thrillers but is particularly well known for his expertise in relation to Scandinavian crime fiction. His knowledge isn’t just restricted to the written word. He also writes about film and TV and his books are always packed full of useful information. While Scandinavian noir is now well embedded in the British consciousness, crime fiction from other European countries, including those in the Med and Eastern Europe is less popular over here. While one or two authors from each country might might have a decent readership, for example Fred Vargas from France or Italy’s Andrea Camilleri, many other excellent writers remain unknown. Forshaw’s latest book, Euro Noir redresses this by giving us a tantalising selection of authors that, in his opinion, are worth seeking out.

Of course, a book about Euro Noir wouldn’t be complete without a section on Scandinavia. To avoid repeating the content of his earlier book, Nordic Noir, Forshaw helpfully focuses on the key writers in each of the Scandinavian countries and also identifies emerging voices that we are likely to be seeing on the bookshelves soon. I’m still waiting for the books of Ragnar Jonasson to be published in English. I was lucky enough to read the first couple of chapters of one of his novels and can’t wait to see how the narrative continues.

Of the Mediterranean countries, I was particularly interested in the chapter on Greece, where I used to live. The book gave me some new authors to try, including Alexis Stamatis, and I’m hoping to pick up one of his books when I next visit the country.

The book is ideal holiday reading, especially if you plan to travel to any of the European countries mentioned and are looking for local authors to try while you are there. Like all the best reference books, it made me want to read virtually every writer mentioned. And, on another note, I love the cover. I can just imagine sitting in a street cafe reading it.

Thanks to the author for my copy of the book. Along with my fellow Petrona judges, I have a short section in the appendices giving my own Euro Noir recommendations. What are they? You’ll have to read the book.