Craig Sisterson from Crime Watch reports that Auckland University is planning to run a Continuing Education course entitled “Women Writing Contemporary Crime Fiction”. The course will ponder
Why are women such prolific writers – and readers – of crime fiction? Historically and in modern-day crime writing the woman writer, it could be argued, dominates the genre. This course aims to explore why, with reference to six major female crime authors currently writing, such as P.D. James, Elizabeth George and Kathy Reichs.
While I think it’s terrific that crime fiction is getting this kind of treatment I have to say I am underwhelmed by the selection of writers for study. In full the list consists of
- Week 1 PD James
- Week 2 Ruth Rendell
- Week 3 Sara Paretsky
- Week 4 Elizabeth George
- Week 5 Linda Fairstein
- Week 6 Kathy Reichs
I don’t think studying those particular authors is going to go far towards achieving the course’s first stated learning outcome of students being able to “Demonstrate a wider knowledge of crime fiction, particularly that written by women”. I’d be hard pressed to come up with a more homogeneous, narrow selection of female crime writers. All the authors are either American or English as are their dominant settings and 5 of the 6 are best known for producing a long running police/legal procedural (Paretsky’s main character is a female private investigator and Rendell also writes psychological suspense in addition to her procedurals).
Where’s the geographical diversity? There are so many fantastic modern female crime writers based all over the globe including these:
- Australia – Kathryn Fox, Leah Giarratano,
- France – Dominique Mannotti
- Iceland – Yrsa Sigurdardottir
- Ireland – Alex Barclay, Tana French
- Norway – Karin Fossum, Anne Holt
- Scotland – Karen Campbell, Ann Cleeves, Denise Mina
- Spain – Teresa Solana
- South Africa – Sarah Lotz, Margie Orford,
- Sweden – Karen Alvtegen, Liza Marklund, Mari Jungstedt
At the very least you’d have thought they’d take a look at New Zealand’s own crop of new crime writers like Vanda Symon.
There’s not much sub-genre diversity here either. Modern crime fiction is about more than solid old British and American police procedurals isn’t it? How about taking a look at Megan Abbott’s noir or the highly popular capers from Janet Evanovich or Lisa Lutz?
I realise none of the authors I’ve mentioned have the vast body of work of a Ruth Rendell but surely such a course should be about quality. In a cynical moment I wonder whether a course this bland is just a grab for some extra dollars by the always cash-strapped university sector or whether it’s been cobbled together by people who aren’t really fans of crime fiction. But even if neither of those things is true and the intentions are entirely pure I’m still saddened. A course such as this would have been a fine opportunity to expose people to a broader range of crime fiction than the ubiquitous titles stocked by my local K-Mart.