Thursday, February 13, 2020

The light and the dark

Over the past month, I’ve read Where the Crawdads Sing, by Delia Owens, and Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned, by Walter Mosley. These are two great books, both. But they are entirely different and show us many things about where the genre is, has been, and will be.

Owens’s Crawdads is a perfectly plotted and insightful coming-of-age story about a young woman who is accused of a murder. The crime scene is well detailed but cozy-like in its descriptions. Owens plays fair with the reader, and the whodunit is answered on the last page. Agatha Christie could not have plotted it better.

Mosley’s Outgunned is Mosley at his best –– offering a glimpse into the African-American experience, shedding light on the results of incarceration, and the illusion-versus-reality of our criminal justice system. It is cruel, dark, and real.

I love both of these books. And I think each of them tells us something interesting about the state of the genre. Raymond Chandler said there are no dull topics, only dull minds. He was speaking of the concept of plot. Each of these books illustrate his point. And it’s a point worth making: any topic is a good one for a crime novel, in a capable writer’s hands.

Both of these books feel authentic and atmospheric and very real. They speak to the possibilities and the options of the genre, and to what is available to writers: themes in these books (I’m being careful not to give spoilers here) are both heavy and light. Reads find discoveries of identity; race and socio-economics in the criminal justice system; and violence is explored and handled differently by each writer.

So what does this say about the state of the genre? The options for you (and me) are endless. Write what you know. Or write what you’re scared to know. But as you go forward, remember Chandler’s quip. The concept is rarely bad. It’s only handled badly.

No comments: