Her debut thriller was a phenomenon, but here an embarrassment of narrators and the clunky withholding of information is death to suspense
More accidents happen in the home than anywhere else, a fact to lend some much-needed plausibility to the overworked genre of domestic suspense, or grip-lit as it’s sometimes known. About 60 debut novels cross my desk every year (I chair the New Blood panel at the Theakston Old Peculier crime writing festival), and for the last three or four years, the proportion of this subgenre has been rising.
The author has to hold back information, hinting at its existence, obliquely suggesting where there might be secrets
Not a problem in itself: if the books were original, well written or thought-provoking, nobody would be happier than I. But sadly that’s not generally been the case. There have been notable exceptions, of course: clever, suspenseful reads such as Renée Knight’s Disclaimer or Ben McPherson’s A Line of Blood. Then there are the mega-sellers such as Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, SJ Watson’s Before I Go to Sleep and Paula Hawkins’s The Girl on the Train, which all gave us interesting twists on the idea of the unreliable narrator.
These books need to deliver at least one shocking moment when the reader realises that they have been looking at the picture the wrong way up. There must be a sudden twist in the direction of travel, taking us to an entirely unexpected destination. We readers journey hopefully, willing that moment to arrive.
Val McDermid, Lee Child and other crime writers pay tribute to Dexter, who died at his Oxford home on Tuesday.
Colin Dexter, the author behind detective Inspector Morse and his adventures solving mysteries in Oxfordshire, has died at the age of 86, with the top names in crime writing lining up to pay tribute to a “a kind, generous man”.
Colin Dexter: ‘His was the sharpest mind and the biggest heart.’ Photograph: Eamonn McCabe for the Guardian
Dexter’s death at his home in Oxford was announced by his publisher Macmillan on Tuesday. Val McDermid, who was a good friend of Dexter, described him as “a lovely, lovely man” and not as grumpy as his creation – “though he did share Morse’s love of music”.
“Early on in my career I told him I was nervous about how to write police procedurals and he said, ‘Well, my dear, I had written five Morse novels before I had even set foot in a police station.’ He had great sense of humour,” McDermid told the Guardian.
Author Lee Child described Dexter as “revolutionary”. “He wrote a character without any concessions at all to likely popularity – Morse was bad tempered, cantankerous, esoteric and abstruse – and thereby showed us that integrity and authenticity work best,” Child said. “His literary descendants are everywhere. When our genre’s family tree is drawn, he’s the root of a huge portion of it.”
Author Peter James said “all of us who love crime fiction owe Colin Dexter a very great debt”.
Fiona Cummins, Jane Harper, Joseph Knox and Kristen Lepionka have been revealed as the four debut authors picked by crime writer Val McDermid for her influential “New Blood” panel at the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival.
McDermid has hosted the annual panel since 2004 and has included S J Watson, Stuart MacBride, Clare Mackintosh, Belinda Bauer and Dreda Say Mitchell among her past New Blood picks.
Fiona Cummins’ Rattle (Macmillan) is a serial killer tale set in London’s Blackheath; Jane Harper’s The Dry (Little, Brown) tells of a triple killing in a small Australian town; Joseph Knox’s Sirens (Doubleday) is the story of a teenage runaway; and Kristen Lepionka’s The Last Place You Look (Faber) has PI Roxane Weary seeking to prove the innocence of a man on death row.
The New Blood panel will take place on Saturday 22nd July at the Old Swan Hotel, Harrogate, during the 2017 Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival. Special guests for the festival, the 15th, will include Lee Child, Ian Rankin, Dennis Lehane, Brenda Blethyn, Peter May and Arne Dahl.