2012 Australian Women Writers Challenge

One of the best things about blogging are the wonderful suggestions you pick up from fellow crime fiction reviewers. We can all get stuck in a rut in our reading if we’re not careful, particularly when it can be so enjoyable to read old crime fiction favourites. In October, on the recommendation of Fair Dinkum Crime, I read Katherine Howell’s Cold Justice, a well plotted crime novel set in Sydney. Then this month I read and reviewed Peter Temple’s White Dog and I now a have a serious taste for Australian crime fiction. Realistically, given that I read a lot of crime fiction I thought that I could fit in a challenge around Aussie authors for 2012. This week Fair Dinkum posted about two challenges that are being hosted to promote Australian fiction. Both sounded interesting, but I decided to go for the 2012 Australian Women Writers Challenge simply because I would also like to read more women writers.

One of the challenges, of course, will be getting hold of the books in the first place. There isn’t a huge amount of Australian crime published in the UK and narrowing the field to women restricts this even more. However, nothing ventured nothing gained and I going for the ‘Miles’ level (read 6 books and review 3) and have settled on the following so far:

1. Katherine Howell – The Darkest Hour (Aready in my TBR pile)

2. Kathryn Fox – Skin and Bone (Again in my TBR pile)

3. Carolyn Morwood – Death and the Spanish Lady (reviewed at Fair Dinkum and sounds interesting)

4. Kirsten Tranter – The Legacy (published by Quercus in the UK and again sounds good)

5. P D Martin – Kiss of Death (not available in the UK or on Kindle but I fancy reading it)

6. ?

My sixth book I will add over the coming year when something grabs my fancy. So six books and nothing too strenuous. I’m looking forward to getting started in the new year.

Location, location, location

I’ve been thinking a lot about the settings of crime novels recently. I think this is partly because I have recently read so many books where the location of the crime has seemed as crucial to the book as the plot. I’ve just finished Lawrence Block’s excellent A Drop of the Hard Stuff for example which revisits an old case of the detective Matt Scudder and contrasts present day New York to the city of the early eighties. Block’s Matt Scudder thrillers are imbued with the spirit of New York and those of us who have read his books for years have seen the city change through the writer’s work. Likewise, I finished Henning Mankell’s The Troubled Man over the summer. The nearest I’ve been to Ystad is Malmo although I would love to go there one day as Mankell’s books have brought the town alive to me. And it’s not just old favourites. Cold Justice by Katherine Howell, recommended by Bernadette at http://reactionstoreading.com/ made me think nostalgically of my visit to Sydney a couple of years ago. And these literary references can develop a life of their own. Oxford runs Inspector Morse tours, Shrewsbury has a Brother Cadfael trail and Edinbugh a two-hour Rebus walk.

But there is something to be said for the fictional place too. I grew up reading Agatha Christie and the village of St Mary Mead I can envisage in my head. Ruth Rendell’s Kingsmarkham is less easy for me to explore geographically but I can identify the type of Sussex town she is referencing. And Peter Robinson’s Eastvale seems to embody all those North Yorkshire towns with their cobbled squares and undulating surrounding countryside. I suppose the advantage of fictional places is that you can shape the place to fit the action. If you need a bridge, invent one. A church with a crooked spire? Put one in the north of the village. And these fictional places aren’t just small. Sue Grafton’s Santa Theresa is a sizable city although I’m not sure how closely it resembles the real life Santa Barbara.

So which do I prefer? I suppose I would have to say genuine locations mainly I suppose as they can make a book come alive. But I suspect my teenage years reading Agatha Christie and Ruth Rendell have left me with an abiding affection for the invented place.