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Crime Beat

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Crime Beat: Penny Lorimer lists her hot shot krimis

Penny LorimerDebut crime novelists have kept the genre alive in South Africa thus far this year. In May Penny Lorimer joined the ranks with her novel, Finders Weepers. Here she lists the writers who made her a crime writer.

Whodunnit? Who made me a crime junkie? Story is everything but characters are crucial: their backgrounds, ethics, domestic lives, stamping grounds, voices, humour, flaws and gifts. I hate to lose touch with anyone I love, so I’ve preferred series, starting with Dad’s paperback potboilers lined up along the dining room pelmets in the seventies …

John D. MacDonald
My first introduction to the genre after Dame Agatha. Formulaic, but who cares. Travis McGee, forerunner of Reacher and all maverick crime fighters. A boat-dwelling loner, a thinker with an unbreakable moral code, fighting for justice for the underdog and always coming out battered, but on top. Oh, and tall too.

Ed McBain
Hero: Detective Steve Carella of the 87th Precinct backed by a wonderfully dependable cast including Meyer Meyer (pants on fire), a charming domestic dimension of a deaf wife and twin children. And his Matthew Hope lawyer series, memorably dividing humankind into fox or pig faces. Matt’s a fox, naturally.

James Lee Burke
Tortured Dave Robicheaux and chaotic sidekick, Clete Purcell: always erring on the side of right.  Dialogue that’s both blunt and ornate, lyrical descriptions that make you feel protective of Louisiana bayous you’ve never seen, or long for a po’boy. His description of New Orleans’ destruction in The Tin Roof Blowdown was brilliant! His writer daughter, Alafair, is pretty good too.

Joe R. Lansdale
Full of black humour, violence and merciless deaths. Really funny dialogue (shades of Robert Parker) and descriptions: ‘… he was big enough to go alligator hunting with stern language’; ‘…she was as lonesome as an adolescent’s first pubic hair’. His delightful Hap and Leonard and some strong female characters, earn him a big tick.

Sara Paretsky
Speaking of strong, female characters: V.I. Warshawski. Bright, brave, beautiful – never a victim. Politically savvy, emotionally evolved, socially conscious, reliable, and still human. The better-groomed sister of Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone.

Barbara Nadel
Much of the joy of the Çetin Ikmen series comes from the strong sense of Istanbul which, ‘ … exists on levels on, above and below the ground which reflect its present, its future and its past’ [Nadel]. The chain-smoking, hard-drinking, inspector is also husband to a large, somewhat clairvoyant, often disapproving Muslim wife and father to eight children.

Donna Leon
Commissario Guido Brunetti: policeman who lunches daily at home with his family; sips wine while watching the sun set over his beloved – and beautifully depicted – Venice; reads philosophy and conducts much of his murder-related business over coffee in bars. He works carefully around a corrupt system to get his man or woman.

Tony Hillerman
Navaho Tribal Policemen, Leaphorn and Chee star. They must operate within a system that has long marginalized the history and culture of their people. Hillerman died in 2008 but I’m delighted to discover that his daughter, Anne, is continuing the series with Spider Woman’s Daughter.

Ian Rankin
The discovery that he doesn’t pre-plot – just sits down and writes – was immensely comforting to a novice who discovers the story as she goes along  (then spends hours fixing inconsistencies or worrying that she’s missed some). He’s king of the British police procedural. John Harvey, Reginald Hill and Graham Hurley are dukes, and PD James: queen mother.

South Africans
This is cheating but it’s impossible to exclude any of the 21st century torch bearers like Meyer, Nicol, MacKenzie, Orford, Lotz, Greenberg, Hichens etc. All uniquely inspiring with their comfortingly recognizable personalities, settings, issues, dialogue, humour. If they could do it, maybe I could too.

 

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