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.
Since Borders and Starbucks will probably be the only major employers in big American cities, it’s fair to ask what works will grace a Borders in 2172. The employees will have no idea, of course, but they’ll be able to punch a few keys on a computer and tell you — after you spell the author’s name, of course.
Or maybe it’s unfair to ask. Raymond Chandler wrote in “The Simple Art of Murder” that no classic detective stories had been written up to that time, no story than which it was impossible to imagine a better one. Since the definition of what constitutes crime fiction seems to be expanding all the time, who can tell what will constitute crime fiction in the future?
I’d say your two choices are candidates for long-term survival, and Donald Westlake will probably turn up in anthologies and histories of crime fiction for years and years.
Detectives Beyond Borders
“Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home”
J Morgetron says
I don’t have an answer to the question you posed, but I will say that I just read a book called *Born Again* about this little Bible Champion Girl who — behind her parents’ backs and with great apologies to God, reads Darwin’s work so she can disprove it using the Bible and first-hand research. It’s one of the funniest, disturbing, and cynical books I’ve read in a long time.
PS: Nice Blog. I likey.
I think Jim Thompson’s work will be lingering on the shelves in 2172. And if Daniel Woodrell’s great books aren’t still around, they certainly should be.
Don DeLillo? Several of his books have criminal themes.
Dave Knadler says
Funny you should mention that. I was just thinking of “Libra,” which would seem to qualify as both crime fiction and literature.
Sally Crawford says
Thank you, dear Dave, for your generous mention.
I have not yet penetrated the mysteries of RSS, etc., so have only just read it.
I should have said in my earlier note that I am a great admirer of American letters.
The contents of my bookshelves – prose and poetry – attest to this.
I have just bought Don deLillo’s ‘Falling Man’, in hardback.
My discovery of the writing of Don deLillo represents a high point in my reading.
I see he has already been mentioned by linkmeister and yourself.
‘White Noise’, as one example, is and forever will be Literature.
Sally Crawford says
PS: having now read beyond my ‘mention’, I can now see you’re concentrating on crime fiction.
I have to admit that it’s probably the genre I know least about – although London boasts a number of ‘crime only’ bookshops.
Dave Knadler says
You know, Sally, I don’t think we need to confine ourselves to crime fiction. Especially on this little blog — let’s just consider it about writing in general. And to address another comment you made: I agree, the very best writing is a lot like poetry. (I occasionally felt that way about writing headlines, too. Distilling maximum meaning into as few words as possible is an art, no matter which medium it serves.)
Yes, DeLillo is a force to be reckoned with.