A recent post by Patti Abbott entitled “What crime fiction writer do you keep meaning to read?” has reminded me that I have an enormous gap in my crime reading. With the odd exception, I don’t read books written by American blokes.
I know It’s not a gender thing because since I’ve been keeping track of such things the breakdown of my reading by gender author averages out to about fifty/fifty. And I do read plenty of books from the US. But few of them are by male writers and there’s only one American male author whose books I buy the moment they’re published (Chris Grabenstein if you’re wondering).
I think my problem stems from the fact that I don’t like the ‘classic’ American male authors like Dashiel Hammett, Mickey Spillane and Raymond Chandler. Or at least I didn’t when I was in my late teens and early 20’s (the last time I can recall reading any of these was when I swapped a half-read Spillane for a Dick Francis in a youth hostel in Europe back in the day). They seemed to me then to be books full of men doing manly things and women being dead (or pathetically simpering which was probably worse in younger me’s mind).
Of course I know, logically, that there are plenty of American males who write different kinds of crime fiction than this but I think I am still influenced by this early perception, even if on an unconscious level. When I peruse recommendations or browse for potential new authors to try I just tend to gloss over the American male writers and instead try something…anything…else.
I have tried to like Michael Connelly, Dennis Lehane and James Lee Burke (and in all cases have come away feeling like I’ve missed the point) though have read and really enjoyed at least one book by a few American men including George Pelecanos, Sean Doolittle, Tom Franklin, Charlie Huston and Wiley Cash so it’s not a completely lost cause. But among the big names who you’d think anyone who claims to be a crime fiction fan would have a working knowledge of that I’ve never tried are Robert B. Parker, Craig Johnson (though I’ve twice bought his books home from the library and returned them unread), Ed McBain, Ross Macdonald, Lawrence Block, Robert Crais, Walter Mosely, John D MacDonald, James M Cain (or if I have I can’t remember a thing about it), Elmore Leonard and Donald E. Westlake.
In fact now that I’ve been prompted to interrogate my database I find a mere 53 crime novels I’ve read in the past five and a half years have been by American male writers (and 11 of those were by the aforementioned Chris Grabenstein). I’ve read a total of 690 crime novels in that period. Which means that American men who aren’t Chris Grabenstein account of a mere 6.2% of my crime fiction reading. In a chart it looks like this (though I included Mr Grabenstein below to bump up the slice of pie just a little)
So…over to you. Accepting that the hard-boiled, private eye is not for me…
- What book (or books) by an American male writer do you think I ought to read?
- Is there something (or someone) you think would be particularly good for helping me to re-set my internal mental block?
- And do you have any mental blocks when it comes to your reading habits?