Crime Fiction Exotica

In the Observer today Tobias Jones writes about ‘crime fiction set abroad’, a category which I would have thought depends on where you live. I’m not entirely convinced by several of the claims made in this piece but Jones has a point about the international market for crime fiction that has recently opened up to British readers. Also in the article’s favour is that it begins with a quotation from Raymond Chandler who died fifty years ago this month:

Raymond Chandler once wrote of crime fiction that the “mystery and the solution of the mystery are only what I call ‘the olive in the Martini'”. You don’t order a Martini just for the olive, he implied, and you don’t read a whodunit merely to find out who did it. “The really good mystery,” he continued, “is one you would read even if you knew somebody had torn out the last chapter.” Quite what a crime novel contains, other than “the olive”, varies: it can be anything from one-liners and wisecracks to social commentary and political opinion. In recent years a new fashion has emerged: crime writing has been spliced with travel-writing. Having an exotic backdrop is almost more important than the plot itself. There’s nothing new to crime books being set abroad: think Eric Ambler or Michael Dibdin. But what’s striking is the sheer number of them now being published. If you go into a bookshop looking for a crime novel, it’s actually easier to find one based abroad than in Britain. [Link]