In The Independent today, crime writer Christopher Fowler discusses what he sees as a stagnation in British crime fiction. He argues that the genre is straitjacketed by an insistence upon a dreariness garbed as realism (Apparently, he believes the field lacks both Wimsey and whimsy):
[T]here is a part of England that forever has an alcoholic middle-aged copper with a dead wife, investigating a murdered girl who turns out to be an Eastern European sex worker. This idea might have surprised a decade ago, but it’s sold to us with monotonous regularity. It’s not gritty, it’s a cliché.
[…]Now, though, very few crime writers dare to stray from the narrow path set by publishers in the wake of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Stieg Larsson’s books are proof that you can get away with anything if you say it with a straight face. They’re enjoyable reads, but patently ridiculous. The Killing was excellent television, but its success has only exacerbated the problem for authors. As Tony Hancock once said, “People respect you more when you don’t get laughs”. We are told that readers want veracity, but readers will accept that a murderer is stalking London according to the rules of a Victorian tontine, even though they’ll ask why your detective doesn’t age in real time. Consequently, there’s an accepted format for crime fiction that has become even more constricted of late, from subject matter to cover design, until it’s almost impossible to tell one author from the next.
Thinking about this, I’m reminded that several of the better books I’ve read recently mix characteristics of the crime novel and urban fantasy, from Chris F. Holm’s excellent Collector series to (going back a bit) William Hjortsberg’s Falling Angel. But none of that lot are British, either.
Meanwhile, in my own work, I find that a lot of my recent writing has come from moments/ideas that make me laugh, however darkly. Broken Glass Waltzes isn’t one of those (although I hope some of Kenny’s lines might induce a smile on occasion), but I hope that several of my newer stories might make the reader laugh even as I creep them out a bit. Maybe my favorite example of that comes from a Lawrence Block story called “Funny You Should Ask.” Maybe if more folks read it, there might be a way out of what Fowler sees as the current Slough of Despond.