12/01/2013

To Die For? Really?

I haven't much to add to Patrick's review of Declan Burke and John Connolly's Books to Die For. I felt the same way overall about the book, liking the same essays and being frustrated at the bias and shortsightedness. What bothered me most is how predictable the whole thing is. There was a time when crime writers were genuinely knowledgeable about the genre they practiced and thought a lot about it, but that time appears to be over. Most of the entries in this collection are usual suspects and offer nothing new in the way of analysis and commentary: with few exceptions contributors typically select the kind of book they write themselves (that Ian Rankin or Jon Lansdale are respectively fond of Derek Raymond and Raymond Chandler will come to no one's surprise) and their rationales are pretty expected. Another recurring trait is the kind of binary thought that mystery criticism shares with rock writing: Before X, things were dire. After X it's all great. James Sallis for instance thinks that French crime fiction prior to the advent of Jean-Patrick Manchette was all about police procedurals and picturesque Pigalle mobsters. To his credit, he is merely echoeing the vulgate predominent in the French fandom - yet he is wrong. French crime fiction was arguably more diverse before Manchette than it has been ever since. (What I have just written would sound like blasphemy to most French crime buffs, but I stand by it.) 
In short, Books to Die For is fine if you want to know more about your favorite writers's tastes (and prejudices) but only so-so if you care for the genre, its history and its milestones. Some might say that's the whole point.