Who writes the best crime? Men, or women?
Friday morning. Harrogate. Val McDermid and Denise Mina take on Mark Billingham and Ian Rankin.
I can already hear the knives being sharpened.
So, who do you think writes the better crime fiction? Men, or women>
*NOTE: All photos are based on concept If women ruled the world.*
I’ve skirted around this issue a bit here, and I guess I figure I may as well dive right in. After all, if I haven’t already said something potentially offensive, then somebody must be translating my blog into “niceness” before it hits the internet, just letting me see the dummy version.
Not because I’m trying to be offensive. I just try to be honest.
In the past, I’ve had a really hard time with women crime writers.
I’d be guessing this goes back about ten years, when I was trying some different authors. Mistakenly, then, for lack of access (I lived on a Gulf Island) I’d end up buying whatever was in the grocery store or drugstore, because there was no bookstore in the town the ferry went to. So, I’d be reading whoever had profile.
And at the time, I seemed to be getting my hands on books that were mostly by women, and I never got hooked on any.
I rectified that one sunny day in the Greater Vancouver Area when I went right to the mystery section and started looking for books. I was doing the fingerspread rule – extending my pinky and thumb as far as possible in opposite directions. If an author had enough books to fill that space (typically 6) then they were in the running. Then I started reading back jackets.*
This was when I discovered Ian Rankin. Pulled down the first book off the shelf, looked at the back, and bought it. I didn’t even read the whole back. Three sentences and the decision was made.
And for a few months, I steadily added to my collection until I reached that sad day when I’d read them all.
Rankin was the first author that compelled me to be a series reader. I didn’t have that rule going in, I just wanted to find authors that were consistently delivering good books. Hence checking the backlist. If I found somebody I liked, I didn’t want to read one book and then have to look for somebody else.
I’ve gotten over that now because I’m fishing from a big pool of authors with books I love. Rankin. Stuart MacBride. Mark Billingham. Simon Kernick. John Rickards.
I bet you can guess where my preferences have been in the past. With men. Can’t help it – shameless hussy I am, I love men.
Seriously, for a while, the overwhelming majority of my reading was dominated by books by men. British men at that. I’m not going to start psychoanalyzing that peculiar quirk. In fact, I never really assessed it. All I knew as a reader was that I’d had a real hit-and-miss period with books by women, and that I was completely satisfied by men.
Now, as a writer, I’ve had to look at that, see if I can come up with a theory.
And I do have one.
You see, I read a fair number of women now. In fact, about 40-45% of my “must buy” list is now filled by women writers. Recent great reads have come from Cornelia Read, Natasha Cooper, Val McDermid,Laura Lippman.
I have to be really honest, and I know this is based strictly off experience. There will be a day, I’m sure, when I’ll read a book by a man that I hate.
It just hasn’t happened yet.
So, I wondered what made me dislike the books that had failed to reel me in, the ones written by women a few years back, the kind of writers with enough profile to make it to the promotional spots.
To be honest, I think it goes to the challenges of being a woman in modern society. Let’s face it: some women try too hard.
I’m speaking in generalities here, all-way round. But I’m not really a feminist. Not the way some people are feminists.
Every time I hear women whining about how they should be hired on fire departments just so there are women, I cringe. My friend Alison and I – we’ve talked about this. Her husband is a professional firefighter in New Westminster BC (Hi Steve! – he reads my blog at work) and my husband is a volunteer firefighter and doing all his training. He’s maintaining a 96% average on his training thus far, including his Safety Codes - congrats honey! That’s almost as high as my post-secondary average…
But I digress. Bottom line? Alison and I don’t care if the person is a man or woman – we just want the best qualified person hired. End of discussion. When my husband has to enter a burning building, I don’t want the explanation of his death to be that the woman backing him up wasn’t strong enough to pull him out so she left him.
Okay, I’m not against female firefighters or cops or anything. I’m just saying people shouldn’t be hired just because they’re women. They should be hired because they’re qualified.
Bring on the hate mail...sandra.ruttan@i-don’t-give-a-crap.com
I’m also not anti-women. But a good friend of mine from high school days, we were talking last night. She prefers to play poker with her husband’s friends instead of hanging with the wives. Her and I are unusual friends in that we’ve both always been better friends with guys.
We were debating why that was last night, and a lot of it has to do with the two extremes of women. Women who either push so damned hard to prove they’re every bit as good as a man, or women who are all frills, heels and glossy lipstick.
When women feel the need to prove they’re as good as a man, isn’t that because they feel they’re inadequate? Okay I know this isn’t true of all women. But generally, if you feel you have to prove something, isn’t that rooted in the belief that you’re inferior?
It isn’t about women who need to prove something, either. It’s about women who need to prove something as compared to men.
The other extreme is the girly-girls. Bottom line is, it’s wonderful there are nice, soft, delicate women out there. I’m just not one of them. My mother used to tell me not to lift weights because those were for men. Huh. And wearing pants used to be for men only, too, but thank God those days are gone!
I’ve always been a tomboy, so I think a lot of my reasons for liking certain books and not liking others are much the same as everyone else’s – it boils down to personal taste.
I’m the one who, on family trips to the mall, could be found sitting on the floor in the bookstore, reading the backs of covers, deciding how much money I had and which books to buy.
Even now, my husband is more of a “shopper” than I am. I’m good at getting gifts when I travel, but new clothes for me? Occasionally I get around to it.
So I’ve found that when a book centers on a female protagonist that likes to shop and party, I just can’t connect.
Not as easily as I can connect to a good strong man.**
In the end, what it boiled down to with some books for me was healthy balance. I can’t speculate on whether those women were trying too hard or really writing for themselves. All I know is, this is one of the wonderful things about having a wide range of books out there to choose from. There’s something that fits everyone. The people who like cat mysteries (shudder) have books they enjoy. Those who relate best to female protagonists can find them in all shapes, sizes and shopping preferences.
So, traditionally, I’ve always liked men. Still do.
But I’ve found that my earlier misses with women had more to do with who I was reading than any failing of the gender.
That being said, the boys are still slightly ahead of the women in my purchasing percentages. So, maybe I can’t say that this is because men do write better crime fiction, but that I have found more male crime writers I love.
Although Mark and Ian won’t win the debate.
I mean, be serious. What man ever wins an argument with a woman?
There is a question today. Tell me your favourite male and female writers. I’ve got my first Denise Mina on my TBR pile – really looking forward to that. Also planning on Kate Atkinson and Margaret Murphy before Harrogate. But I’ve been looking forward to reading some Al Guthrie, Peter Guttridge and John Harvey too. And then there’s the pre-BoucherCon reading – Swiercy-howerver-you-spell-it and Terrenoire…and my apologies to anyone I’ve forgotten.
Although I can see I’m going to have trouble finding these guys in Canada, because I’ve been striking out so far.
With thanks to Trace for this:
Your Theme Song is Beautiful Day by U2
"Sky falls, you feel like
It's a beautiful day
Don't let it get away"
You see the beauty in life, especially in ordinary everyday moments.
And if you're feeling down, even that seems a little beautiful too.
*If the book is paperback, I expect there to be a bit of a summary of the story on the back, or you may just lose a sale.
**Bring it on, Boy Kim. Bring it on.