Women and Crime
Crime Writing with Megan Buxton
Crime, mystery and thriller are the most popular genres in Australia – a large percentage of book sales come from this category and I’ve made a substantial contribution to that statistic. There’s an ever-increasing TBR pile on my bedside table and I have to confess that most of it is crime fiction of one sort or another. For a tragic like me there is almost too much choice in bookshops and libraries but I’ve found, over the course of many years of reading crime fiction, that many of my favourite authors of this genre are Australian.
Australian men are well-represented on my pile. Barry Maitland has long been one of my favourite authors; in particular, his latest series, The Belltree Trilogy, much of it set locally, is a riveting read. Garry Disher, Adrian McKinty, Robert Gott, and Peter Temple are all Australian writers who are masters at keeping the reader on the edge of the seat.
Lately, however, I’ve found that the stories I’ve loved reading have been by women. I’m not alone there – Sophie Gilbert, writing in The Atlantic in 2017 says that 80% of a new female author’s readership is likely to be female. Why are women writers so appealing to me? What makes them such outstanding writers of crime fiction?
It could be that women understand the concept of fear in our very cores – we grow up with the threat of being a victim ever-present in our lives. And, it has been suggested, women are more attuned to thinking about people’s motivations, that they have greater insight. I’m not sure I agree with that – the male authors I read show just as much understanding of human nature and the things that motivate someone to take a life.
Whatever the reason, there can be no denying that women have always been in the forefront of crime writing – think of Agatha Christie, P.D James, Ruth Rendell and Elizabeth George. There isn’t space here to list them all.
In my case, not only have the authors I’ve loved been women – many of them have been Australian. Australian women have long excelled at exploring the dark side of society.
The very first mystery novel in Australia was Force and Fraud: A Tale of the Bush written by Ellen Davitt in 1865 (Australia’s crime writing award for women, the Davitt Award is named in her honour). Mary Fortune followed with her series The Detectives Album (1868-1909). It was an Australian woman, Charlotte Jay, Beat Not the Bones, who won the very first Edgar award in 1954.
It was Marele Day’s 1988 novel The Life and Crimes of Harry Lavender that gave me my first taste of how well Australian women do crime. Since then I have enjoyed the historical crime fiction of Kerry Green wood’s Phryne Fisher series and Sulari Gentil’s suave Rowland Sinclair. Pam Newton (Beams Falling, The Old School) Yvette Erskine and Karen Davis’s police procedurals have kept me enthralled as well.
Holly Throsby (Goodwood, Cedar Valley), Sarah Bailey (The Dark Lake, Into the Night) and Jane Harper(The Dry and Force of Nature) , Emily Maguire( An Isolated incident) and Candice Fox (Eden, Hades, Crimson Lake) are dark mysteries that grip the reader from the opening page – from opening lines, like these.
Caleb was still holding him when the paramedics arrived. Stupid to have called an ambulance – Gary was dead. Couldn’t breathe with his throat slit open like that. (Emma Viskic, Resurrection Bay.)
Later, the four remaining women could fully agree on only two things. One: No-one saw the bushland swallow up Alice Russell. And two: Alice had a mean streak so sharp it could cut you. (Jane Harper, Force of Nature.)
As soon as the stranger set the bundle on the floor, Hades could tell it was the body of a child. It was curled on its side and wrapped in a worn blue sheet secured with duct tape around the neck, waist and knees. One tiny, pearl-coloured foot poked out from the hem, limp on his sticky linoleum. (Candice Fox, Hades.)
I feel as though I should apologise to all the wonderful crime writers, Australian and others, whose names I haven’t mentioned. They are all worth reading. If you haven’t read crime fiction you should Be Warned: it is addictive – especially the recent trend in novels of domestic mayhem which I’ll discuss next time.
Megan Buxton is a writer, retired English teacher and an avid reader of crime fiction. She is also the president of HWC board and hosts a creative writing gathering once a month at Maitland.
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