Crime Beat: Chris Karsten’s top 10 in the krimi stakes
Chris Karsten is well known to Afrikaans readers for his series of true crime novels and for his fiction which has won a number of prizes. Last year the first of his Abel Lotz trilogy was published in English as The Skin Collector, a grizzly story of a man with a penchant for doing unspeakable things to attractive women. Crime Beat will run an extract from the novel next week and have a quiet chat with the author a few days after that. In the meantime here are the crime authors and crime novels that get Chris Karsten excited.
Dashiell Hammett: Pioneer of the hard-boiled crime novel who created Sam Spade, the slightly dishevelled sardonic private detective with his own unflinching code of ethics and model for generations of fictional private eyes and cops. The Maltese Falcon is still regarded as one of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century.
Raymond Chandler: Hammett’s successor with his own Philip Marlowe, hard drinking and tough with a meditative undercurrent. Farewell, My Lovely and The Long Goodbye are considered literary works with sometimes lyrical prose, and Chandler’s essay “The Simple Art of Murder” is a seminal reference on detective fiction.
Elmore Leonard: He is the contemporary exponent of the hard-boiled crime school but with a unique gritty style: he firmly believes that his characters speak and think for themselves and that his voice as the author should never be heard. The most important of his ten rules of writing is: “If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.”
Henning Mankell: The Swedish cop Kurt Wallander loves the opera and constantly struggles with his own conscience and shortcomings – the quintessential multilayered cynical cop of Scandinavian crime noir: murders to solve amid unresolved personal disappointments and disillusionment. And always an undercurrent of social injustices.
Smilla’s Sense of Snow: An unsettling mystic book by Danish author Peter Hoag coated as a detective story. When a boy falls to his death from a snow-covered roof, Smilla is convinced her young friend was murdered. Her quest for the truth touches deep social, cultural and personal issues and emotions, like her own Inuit heritage and her feelings of love and betrayal.
City of the Dead: In a graphic and brutal manner, Herbert Lieberman relates the carnage of New York’s dark side. As the city’s chief medical examiner, Dr. Peter Konig has to deal with this daily parade of mangled corpses in order to find justice. But the mayhem also reflects on a city and society in danger of being stripped of all decency.
In Cold Blood: Based on the 1959 murders of the Clutter family in Kansas, Truman Capote used all his fictional techniques to write a ground-breaking book of nonfiction that reads as a literary crime novel. At the same time, he succeeded in portraying the two roving killers and four unsuspecting victims as a violent slice of American life.
Fred Vargas: Alias of French author Frédérique Audoin-Rouzeau and creator of the three Evangelists, but also of the quirky police chief Adamsberg with his Zen-like approach to any kind of crisis. Her books have been described as “struggles between characters and their worst traits”, full of humour and empathy.
Martin Cruz Smith: By his fourth appearance in Havana Bay, you wish you could share a bottle of vodka with Russian cop Arkady Renko. He is unvarnished and decent, even vulnerable, but also smart and tough, and not afraid to expose, in his murder investigations, all kinds of societal deception and corruption, regardless personal consequences.
Gerald Seymour and John le Carré: Their British Cold War non-heroes are faced with moral choices and are more involved in their own internal struggles, in contrast to the physical action of swashbuckling American thriller caricatures. These unheroic heroes are real people set in a real world confronted by real issues.