Crime Beat: Margaret von Klemperer’s Top 10 crime writers/novels
New on the crime fiction scene is a novel – Just A Dead Man – by long-time Durban crime fiction reviewer, Margaret von Klemperer. Here are her top ten crime novels. She writes, ‘As you can see, I’m probably more interested in character than plot or pace. I like writing that is quirky and funny and, I suppose, not too much horror. I’m sure I’ll think of something I should have put in, but here you are:
Reginald Hill: For me, simply one of the best crime writers ever. Not just the Dalziel & Pascoe series which tackle all kinds of issues with a wickedly funny, erudite and humane touch and a wonderful cast of characters, but also the Joe Sixsmith novels about a black P.I. in Luton. Joe’s hilarious adventures are perhaps best seen in The Roar of the Butterflies. I’m going to miss Hill who died earlier this year.
Exhibit A by Sarah Lotz: What I love in crime writing – humour. The subject may be grim – rape by a cop while in police custody, but the handling is terrific. Funny, sharp and avoids being filled with too much South African angst. The dark side is all there, but never overwhelming.
Kate Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie novels: From Case Histories to Started Early, Took My Dog, Atkinson pushes the boundaries of the crime genre. Jackson is becoming an almost Kafkaesque character, and often the situations and their resolutions are surreal, but the books are great, funny, and stick in the mind.
Philip Kerr’s Bernie Gunther novels: A wonderful series of edgy historical detective novels, ranging between 1930s Berlin, where the flawed but very human wisecracking detective Bernie is struggling to cope, and his post-war life, mostly on the run in South America, Cuba and parts of Europe while longing to go home. Serious issues: light touch.
Black Diamond by Zakes Mda: Not typical of Mda, and maybe not really a crime thriller either, but the wacky tale of magistrate Kristin Uys and her “protector” Don Mateza is a great deconstruction of local stereotypes, with a bit of crime and thrills thrown in.
Lost Ground by Michiel Heyns: Not exactly a crime thriller either, with its elements of homecoming novel and state-of-the-nation meditation. But a real page turner, often funny, genuinely shocking, moving and a delectable twist in the tail.
Young Blood by Sifiso Mzobe: A vibrant and powerful black voice in South African crime fiction, lifting the lid on the downward spiralling life of a 21st century teenager in Umlazi township outside Durban. Let down by society, the appeal of fast cars, guns and crime is almost overwhelming. Mzobe offers insights many other writers miss.
C.J. Sansom’s Matthew Shardlake novels: Set in the reign of king Henry VIII, this is no Tudor Golden Age bonkfest series but shows a society riven by faction and fear. Hunchback lawyer Matthew Shardlake is a magnificent and endearing addition the ranks of fictional detectives.
Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James: Shows how flexible the crime genre can be in the hands of an expert. James takes Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and puts the characters six years on into a tricky little murder investigation. It obviously helps that readers bring the characters with them, and it all makes for a fun and lively read.
The Nine Tailors by Dorothy Sayers: A bit of nostalgia here for the golden age of the Queens of Crime. In fact, the only murder on offer here happens long before the action of the book, but there is a very troublesome corpse, masses of information on bell-ringing should you want it and loads of clever detection.