Crime is popular, apparently particularly among women. Extreme crimes such as murder, torture and rape feature in these statistics. Not that women are actively committing these crimes, but they are writing and reading crime novels with a surprising relish, according to this article from the Guardian. A few weeks ago, I was selling secondhand books at a charity event, when an elderly women sifted through the paperbacks on offer and remarked “no, they are all a bit tame for me. I like something with a good murder”. I suppose I sympathised with her, after all I had read the entire collection of Sherlock Holmes novels by the age of 13.
Perhaps it is the puzzle, the solving of a mystery, that attracts readers and writers. The ability to commit the perfect crime, because you are not committing it, the criminal in the book is being your proxy. It could be the race to solve the murder against the fictional detective – or make conclusions from the clues scattered around by the author, dispelling red-herrings before the “Big Reveal”. It takes a good deal of creativity in order to feed this curious obsession, and certainly a lot of research on behalf of the Crime Writer.
We know from her still surviving notebooks that Agatha Christie collected scientific details and snippets of crime stories from newspapers to help and inspire her with her crime novels. I know that Stephen Booth, a crime writer from the Midlands and Alumi of BCU, has spent time shadowing the police in Nottinghamshire to be able to get police procedure correct in his Cooper and Fry novels. At least that is what he said during a talk at my local library.
We readers get an insight into these creative activities because writers letters, notebooks, original manuscripts are archived. These archives can give dedicated researchers many a happy hour trying to understand and reconstruct the personalities of authors that are long dead. For example there are many theories about Jane Austen which reflect society in the day and age when the researchers live. For example, in 2013 the Weston Library at Bodleian, Oxford, held an exhibition which describes Jane as “an ambitious and risk-taking businesswoman and a wartime writer”. The benefits of this link to immortality have been realised by living writers, and possibly a way to curate their own image for the future.
Returning to my theme of Crime, Ian Rankin has donated his archive to the National Library of Scotland. According to an article in the NLS free magazine, Discover, Ian spent six months sifting through boxes of manuscripts (published and unpublished), letters to agents and publishers, bills, bank statements and travel tickets, postcards and computer disks. Some of the ephemeral items have been shredded and he has not given his daily diary to the archive. I don’t suppose most of us would want all and sundry (or a least investigative researchers) to read our outpourings from early teenage to early 30’s. I know that mine would be rather dismal, recording highlights as going shopping and watching television. More intriguing and definitely donated are the correspondence that Ian had with other crime writers, such as Ruth Rendell, PD James, Colin Dexter and others.
It does make you think, though, that this physical archive may be amongst the last to be safely put away and preserved for future generations to discover the legacy of Crime, or at least the working life of a crime writer.