“Walk on the Wild Side”

October 13, 2008 at 12:36 pm (books, Bouchercon 2008, Mystery fiction)

Each of the panels at Bouchercon took its name from a song title. The first panel we attended on Thursday was “Walk on the Wild Side” (song by Lou Reed). Often the title did not give much of a clue as to what the panel’s topic actually was. I gather that in such situations – and this was one of them – the moderator is free to pose questions that he or she considers relevant. I was delighted to note that our moderator in this instance was George Easter. Easter publishes the criminally enjoyable magazine Deadly Pleasures. If ever I m at a loss as to what crime fiction to read next, I consult that magazine’s “Best of” lists. They invariably reflect the titles that have been especially well reviewed that year. The rest of the panel consisted of those pictured below:

Val McDermid

Val McDermid

Colin Harrison

Colin Harrison

Chris Knopf

Adrian Magson

Adrian Magson

Of these four, I had only read one novel by one of the authors: A Place of Execution by Val McDermid. I knew of Colin Harrison but had not read him. I had barely heard of Chris Knopf. Adrian Magson, whose name was entirely new to me, lives in Oxfordshire and is a columnist for Writing Magazine in the UK. He likes to tackle topical issues in his fiction; his latest, No Kiss for the Devil, concerns the murky activities of certain Russian oligarchs. I thought it sounded interesting, and I enjoyed making the acquaintance of this genial, articulate man.

So, just what did the quartet of crime writers talk about?  They started by discussing rules – and the breaking of them! There’s no way I can convey, in an orderly way, just how things progressed from there. My notes look like a gigantic scribble! I can tell you that at one point, the question was posed as to how far you can go into a dark place before you actively repulse the reader. Obviously, that depends on who that reader is! One of the participants warned the others against describing anything nasty done to an animal. That’s when you get the hate mail! Well, I have to say that for this reader, that really is a hard and fast rule.

At one point, I wrote  the phrase “moral landscape of the novel,” presumably because I liked it, though I can’t recall precisely what was said on the subject. Val McDermid used the term “transgressive writing,” and I do remember that part of the discussion. She defined the term as referring to a clear case of rule breaking in the context of writing crime fiction. She used as an example the revelation, at a novel’s outset,  of the identity not only of the victim but also of the perpetrator. I immediately thought of the famous – and famously radical –  first line of A Judgement in Stone by Ruth Rendell:

“Eunice Parchman killed the Coverdale family because she could not read or write.”

Toward the end of the panel’s allotted hour, George Easter posed the question as to which writers had most influenced the participants. Without hesitation, Val McDermid, a Scot, said Robert Louis Stevenson. When we were in Edinburgh last year, Ian Rankin said the same thing. I am only now beginning to realize what a huge influence Stevenson has had on Scottish literature. I heartily recommend reading, or re-reading, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. I did so last year and was amazed at the punch still packed by that slender volume.

Chris Knopf cited the hardboiled masters Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. Adrian Magson mentioned Leslie Charteris (“The Saint”) and Mickey Spillane, as well as Western writers Louis L’Amour and Zane Grey, whose storytelling prowess he remembered vividly. As for Colin Harrison, who has read widely and eclectically his whole life – everything and everyone from Batman to Shakespeare!

1 Comment

  1. Reginald Hill, “sorcerer of style” « Books to the Ceiling said,

    […] Bouchercon (where I attended a panel moderated by George Easter), we were told that publishers switch titles this way because they claim to know their audience, at […]

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