My fatuous poll pitting Charles Dickens against three of today’s big-name crime writers proved less than nothing, but it did elicit an interesting comment from Sally Crawford of Blogging for London: Which of today’s writers might endure as long as Dickens?
My short answer would be “none of the above.” But let’s think about it. It’s certainly possible that the most enduring contemporary writer may be somebody we’ve not yet heard of — some Van Gogh of the literary world whose genius is widely acknowledged only after he or she is dead. But since I’m trying to maintain a vague focus on crime writing, let’s limit the choices to that genre. Can you think of anybody writing crime fiction today who might still be in print 165 years from now? Dickens set the bar pretty high in that regard. Too bad he wasn’t writing detective stories.
Probably it’s a dumb question. The things that sell modern crime novels — adherence to the conventions of the genre and generous dollops of ironic pop-culture references — are the very things that work against longevity. Still, there must be somebody out there whose work might grace the classics section of a Borders in 2172 — always assuming books of any kind survive the century. Ruth Rendell? Elmore Leonard? I’m going to bed now, but I hope some other names come to me in the night.