Published: 24/08/2012 13:24 - Updated: 24/08/2012 13:28

John has time for crime

John Connolly and friend Sacha
John Connolly and friend Sacha

CRIME has been very much on Irish author John Connolly’s mind.

Not just the crimes in his own successful series of thrillers starring haunted US private eye Charlie Parker, the latest of which, "Wrath of Angels", is published next week.

Together with fellow Irishman Declan Burke, he has been looking at the whole history of crime fiction in "Books To Die For", which invites modern day practitioners including Scottish writers Ian Rankin, Val McDermid and Chris Brookmyre, to pick their own crime writing favourites.

Connolly himself contributes two essays to the book about Canadian-American private eye writer Ross Macdonald and his near namesake Michael Connelly, both of which, like his own novels, look across the Atlantic rather than to his own homeland.

Connolly’s first Charlie Parker book, the award-winning "Every Dead Thing", was published back in 1999. Since then there has, like Scotland, been an explosion of Irish set crime fiction with writers like Burke, Ken Bruen and Brian McGilloway, but even so, had Connolly been starting today he still reckons he would be more likely to set his books in Maine than Munster.

"My reasons for not writing about Ireland are probably because I’m very much a product of my generation," the 44-year old Dubliner said.

"I grew up in a very repressed and insular society and I suppose my inclination was always to get away from Ireland and I suppose it’s true of everything, even emigration, that you look either to the UK or America.

"What I wanted to try and do was bring a European perception to what I thought was an American model. In Britain you have writers like Ian Rankin and Val McDermid bringing American influences into their writing. I kind of met them halfway across the Atlantic going in the opposite direction."

With Rankin and McDermid among those celebrating Scottish crime fiction in the first Bloody Scotland crime festival in Stirling next month, fellow Celt Connolly is approving of the rise of the "Tartan Noir" phenomenon.

"Crime fiction comes out of the environment and politically and in terms of landscape, Scotland is so different to the rest of the UK," he said.

"In Scotland you get something akin to what you have in Scandinavia, a couple of big cities, a whole lot of smaller towns, then a lot of empty landscape."

That, together with our sometimes ambiguous feelings about being part of the UK, gives Scottish crime writing and Scottish writing in general, a very different outlook to our neighbours, he suggests.

In "Books To Die For" the 120 contributors have picked a range of authors which include Charles Dickens, Peter Ackroyd and Graham Greene among more obvious crime choices like Raymond Chandler, Agatha Christie or Inverness-born Josephine Tey.

However, Connolly and his fellow editor were not out to make any great claims for crime fiction’s literary merits.

"That’s a battle that’s largely been fought," he said.

"It doesn’t matter what the genre is. There is only good writing and bad writing. Our rule was that if you could take the crime element out and the book falls apart, then it’s a crime novel.

"Someone like the American writer Jim Thompson wasn’t writing to be part of the canon, he was writing to put food on the table, but some of his books are classics."

That same commitment to good writing is something Connolly strives for in his own books.

"Just because you are writing crime fiction doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be writing at the top of your game," he said.

• John Connolly's latest Charlie Parker novel, "The Wrath of Angels", and "Books to Die For", co-edited with Declan Burke, are published by Hodder & Stoughton.

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