Friday, February 23, 2007

Crime from the Mind of a Woman

The time before last at the library I noticed this collection of short stories, edited by Elizabeth George. It's nice and thick, and looked like it would last me a long time, especially if mixed with sudokus, which I'm sadly becoming addicted too. (If they're simple. Otherwise I throw my toys all out of the pram, thankyouverymuch. And they'll never be as much fun as a good crossword.)

It's a rather impressive collection. I have to admit I was a bit surprised, since I personally don't think that highly of Elizabeth George's own books. She writes well enough, I suppose, but her characters are a little trop for my taste. They've never grabbed me, in short. However, if she'd had a hand in choosing the stories for this collection she shows good taste and quite a bit of intelligence. The book contains 26 stories from different authors, and each story and author is introduced with a short text by someone called Jon L. Breen, who seems to know his stuff. I googled him, and he appears to be a writer himself, of pastiches among other things, but also a literary critic. I suspect he's had a large hand in choosing in other words, but Elizabeth George gets author credit, so she must've been involved. I sincerely hope so, anyway!

The collection limits itself to women crime writers of the 20th century. "Crime writer" is apparently a loose term, to be applied to someone who writes of crime. I quite like that, as it's sort of my idea of the genre too. The appealing thing about the frame of "crime fiction" is that it provides you with a linear movement ahead in time, to the solution of the mystery, but it's no good at all unless it's also literature, right? So, we find Nadime Gordimer's short story of the affair between the white land-owner's son and the black girl from the farm here (Country Lovers, a classic), aswell as more classic detective stories. Several authors were completely new to me, and now I'd love to find more of their work. It'll probably be hard though... Some were old favourites, like Marcia Muller, Ngaio Marsh, Dorothy L. Sayers, Christianna Brand, Sara Paretsky (I'd read the story though). I was interested to see a story by Antonia Fraser - the name rang a bell, and the story note said she was married to the writer Harold Pinter; aaahhhh, of course, the (now) Nobel Prize winner! This tickled me. I was even more tickled when I didn't like the story much... I'm wicked.

Now, here I'm just going to list all the new (to me) authors and stories I found particularly interesting. So I can check for future reference. It doesn't get cleverer than that, I'm afraid.

Susan Glaspell: A Jury of her Peers - nice feminist story from 1917. A woman appears to have murdered her husband, but the sheriff can't see a motive. However, the neighbouring ladies think they can, but they are being ignored.

Shirley Jackson: The Summer People - a thriller-esque piece with an open ending; we don't know if anything will happen to the couple, or if their imagination is running away with them. From 1950.

Charlotte Armstrong: S:t Patrick's Day in the Morning - interesting, maybe not great. From 1959. Armstrong wrote several stories that were later filmed, I'd like to check out more of her stuff. The twists in the plot reminded me of Hitchcock.

Dorothy Salisbury Davis: The Purple is Everything - cozy, about a woman who accidentally steals a Monet. 1963.

Nedra Tyre: A Nice Place to Stay - very good. Tyre was, among other things, a social worker. This story is about how poverty can drive a person to crime. Must find more of Tyre's work. 1970.

Joyce Harrington: Sweet Baby Jenny - another American writer writing about what poverty can do to a person. Sweet Baby Jenny is much smarter than people give her credit for though, and she'll take revenge in her own sweet time. 1981.

Kristine Kathryn Rusch: The Young Shall See Visions, and the Old Dream Dreams - wins prize for longest title... Rusch writes science-fiction too, so I'd like to find more of her work, it appears to be sort of cross-over. Nice story in which an old woman remembers her past.

Carolyn Wheat: Ghost Station - woman alcoholic police officer. Need I say more? Original enough just there. Not bad, and Wheat seems to know her background. Wouldn't mind reading more.

Wendy Hornsby: New Moon and Rattlesnakes - a sort of noir tale of a woman running from her oppressive (abusive?) marriage, and taking revenge. Nice. Me like.

Gillian Linscott: A Scandal In Winter - a rather clever Sherlock Holmes story. Linscott is smart enough not to fall into the trap of trying to emulate Conan Doyle, but rather writes her own story using the well-known characters. Not bad.

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