Barry Forshaw looks at the six authors selected for the Crime Thriller Club TV feature Living Legends. All these authors will be members of the Hall of Fame, awarded at the Specsavers Crime Thriller Awards…
The ever-reliable American author Michael Connelly alternates his two protagonists, low-rent lawyer Mickey Haller and tough cop Harry Bosch, and sometimes (to the delight of his fans) sets them against each other in the same book. Of the quartet of American crime novelists whose speciality is ironclad storytelling (the other three are Linwood Barclay, Harlan Coben and Robert Crais; James Lee Burke is a different kettle of fish), Michael Connelly is perhaps the most interested in the conflicted character of his protagonists, and the always-beleaguered Mickey Haller is his masterstroke. The Lincoln Lawyer was the book that put Mickey on readers’ radars, but virtually all his work has the panache of that book, and most are immensely assured pieces of writing.
The inexorable ascent of Robert Harris as one of the UK’s most important popular novelists has been an unusual phenomenon, quite unlike the career path of most of his peers. His breakthrough book was the powerful Fatherland in 1992 (with its dark alternative view of history, in which Germany was the winning nation in the Second World War), and from that time onwards, a sequence of striking and genre-bending novels followed, for which the description ‘thriller’ no longer seemed sufficient: Archangel, Enigma, The Fear Index and the much-acclaimed The Ghost, filmed by Polanski. But if there is one thing that has marked out Harris’s career, it is his wholly admirable refusal to be typecast with regard to category.
Dean Koontz’s thrillers prove over and over again that he can handle plotting more ingeniously than most of his contemporaries. What’s more, Koontz can ratchet up the tension with such authority that the reader is comprehensively gripped from page one. But this isn’t a writer who is just interested in the execution of a precision-tooled plot (although, God knows, he’s an old hand at handling such things). What we get in his books — along with the cleverly orchestrated tension — is a series of killer twists, the kind that Koontz has always been adept at. But perhaps most cherishable of all his skills is an uncommon one: his refusal to repeat himself: a phenomenon all too rare these days, when so many thriller writers simply recycle the same material. That is most definitely not Dean Koontz’s way.
LYNDA LA PLANTE
The multi-tasking Lynda La Plante (writer, producer and sometime actress) is the creator of Prime Suspect’s Jane Tennison, the most influential of all female detectives (The Killing’s Sarah Lund is an acknowledged heir apparent). Initially, La Plante’s thrillers — such as Wrongful Death, featuring her other major female copper, Anna Travis — may appear to be straightforwardly compelling blockbusters with strong women characters, but she is a far more subtle writer than this might suggest. It takes real command to produce popular writing as sophisticated as this, and if the conflict and menace she deals in may be familiar fare, her books treat the subjects in a head-on, vigorous fashion that lifts her effortlessly above the rest.
Val McDermid has joined the elite ranks of those serious novelists who write crime fiction, with both series fiction and highly compelling standalones. Her early books featuring Scottish journalist Lindsay Gordon were followed by a series featuring the dogged PI Kate Brannigan, adding new levels of gritty sociological observation. But even better was to come. McDermid’s third series featuring profiler and clinical psychologist Tony Hill was quite her strongest work yet: as well as creating one of the richest pieces of characterisation of her career in the quirky Hill (a further level of fame came with the TV series with Robson Green), McDermid began forging plots of psychological complexity quite the equal of many a writer of so-called ‘serious’ fiction. And she now has the best of both worlds – a dedicated crime readership eager for every new offering, and the kind of serious attention her more literary peers might envy.
Is Denise Mina becoming blasé about the crime fiction awards that routinely come her way? Along with being one of the finest practitioners of the crime writer’s art, the Scottish novelist is also a social commentator of perception and humanity, as her recent novel, The Red Road, reminds us. After Mina won the John Creasey Best First Crime Novel prize for her remarkable Garnethill (1998), each subsequent novel was keenly awaited. But high reader expectations can be a heavy cross to bear, and more than one writer has come to grief attempting to recreate earlier triumphs. Such books as Exile, however, proved that Mina is a writer up for the long haul. And The Red Road is among her most impressive work, with the social issues addressed by the book as cogently handled as the satisfying plotting.
Author photo credits. Michael Connelly: Mark DeLong Photography. Denise Mina: Neil Davidson. Val McDermid: Mimsy Moller.