It's a crime......


My lifelong interest in crime fiction can be traced back to reading Enid Blyton before graduating to Agatha Christie's body of work. It continues to this day and has been the catalyst for festivals, an art installation, a blog and author interviews. My home library of crime fiction titles is sizeable and includes autographed and inscribed editions. I suspect most readers are in concert with me in collecting everything written by a newly discovered author; I feel compelled to add to my library with the complete works of authors and have tracked titles down far and wide. Surprisingly, in this day of all things digital, it can still prove a challenge to locate and purchase earlier works and out-of-print titles but I enjoy the hunt and feel a great sense of contentment when I can view my library shelves. Indeed, it may be the librarian in me that demands order - by author, by date of publication, by series.

I recently had cause to list some of the authors represented in my collection and repeat it here (not an exhaustive list): Stephen Booth, Giles Blunt, Michael Connolly, Garry Disher, Nicolas Freeling, Elizabeth George, Robert Gott, Martha Grimes, John Harvey, P.D. James, Gabrielle Lord, Barry Maitland, Peter May, Denise Mina, Ian Rankin, Ruth Rendell, Charles Salzberg and Dana Stabenow. Meeting P.D. James was my equivalent of meeting a favoured musician whose music forms the backdrop to your memories; her books are among my most treasured and her character, Adam Dalgleish, like an old friend. Michael Connolly has been unfailingly pleasant and gracious on his visits to Melbourne and the events I have hosted. Ian Rankin is patron of the Crime & Justice festival I convened. And, John Harvey and Charles Salzberg have been supportive both in person and from across the world.

I write an occasional Nordic Crime blog that, when I started it,  showcased the genre in its infancy among readers in Australia. Writers of note include Jussi Adler-Olsen, Carin Gerhardsen, Hans Koppel, Mons Kallentoft, Camilla Lackberg, Henning Mankell, Jo Nesbo, Hakan Nesser, Kristina Ohlsson, and, of course, Maj Sjowell & Per Wahloo. Again, the opportunity to meet Henning Mankell, Camilla Lackberg and Jo Nesbo and host events with them was exciting and enjoyable.

Many if not all writers of crime fiction have, at times, had to defend the genre against criticism that it is neither literary nor particularly engaging, and that it is at best formulaic. Yet, at its heart, crime fiction is about the human condition and it is storytelling at its most compelling. For this reader, it often outstrips general fiction in its structure, detail and character development.

The Crime & Justice festival (ten years in) is unique in its reach - a forum for crime fiction writers and readers to engage with people from the judiciary, the social service sector, and the political sphere. It seemed to me that a festival of this nature would crystallize the interest of crime fiction readers - what happens when human beings are exposed to, or are the perpetrators of, extreme acts; how do we understand the psyche at work and how do ordinary people uncover truths and expose emotional realities? It is still, it seems, an idea ahead of its time as publishers have never quite been able to grasp it or, perhaps, have been late to the wide readership of the genre and have been happy to publish in the area but not really invest in it. Interestingly, a Sydney group started a lookalike weekend event in 2017 post the inclusion in our program of some Sydney-based writers so it will be interesting to see how that develops.

When you are a long-term, serial crime fiction reader, with a history of bookselling and librarianship, you 'keep the faith' and so I continue to review crime fiction and to promote it widely. To do otherwise would, dare I say, be a crime.....

Andrew Dalmau