Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Do men do it better?

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’

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.


Trace said...

Gosh, I have so many favorites it's crazy. And I go through phases, too. I've read all of Val's police procedurals. Love her. Alex Kava, if you want to have the bejesus scared out of you. She has a very creepy series featuring a female cop named Maggie O'Dell. Fun stuff.

Dennis Lehane. LOVE. HIM. His Patrick Kenzie/Angela Genaro series is friggin' AWESOME! Lee Child, of course, for his Jack Reacher series. You knew I love those last two, though.

Tamara Siler Jones. Fricken amazing! She combines fantasy, historical, horror and mystery all in one. What a writer.

Lynn Viehl's Darkyn Series. Stuart McBride. And of course Mr. Rickards.

But I could go on forever. I love books!

Trace said...

Oh! For an awesome book which isn't really well known that will knock your socks off, try Jeffrey Deaver's A Maiden's Grave. Excellent read.

Erik Ivan James said...


I took a close look at the "women" version of the Manogram machine.
Won't work in my case. I doubt the technology is advanced enough to image air.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Trace, thanks for all the recommendations.

Erik, I'm not touching that!

Erik Ivan James said...

Sandra, not much to touch.:)
Wonder if Boy Kim has any impressions of the Manogram?

Boy Kim said...

I think Her Majestic Trace-alicious One (sneaky little imp-ette that she is) has been inside my head again, as She's already mentioned three of my favourites - Dennis Lehane, Jeffrey Deaver and Val McD. And I'm reading my second Alex Kava at the moment.

Lehane's Kenzie/Genaro series is great. I love the interaction between them and Bubba.

I've also got a soft spot for Lisa Gardner. Or is it that I wish her soft spot was for me?

If pushed though, apart from staggering a touch but not necessarily falling over, I'd have to choose Mr God (aka Michael Connelly) and Val as my favourite favourites.

As for my impressions on the Manogram, it pains me to say it but I hardly made any. (Maybe I should go visit that enlargement site from the other day.) But I think I'll get one anyway. It looks like a lot of fun.

And Sandra, your ability to connect more easily with a man is not a surprise. By definition, a good connection requires a socket and a plug.

Sandra Ruttan said...


Kim, I wasn't clear there. You'll get an enlargement or you'll get a manogram? Which did you think would be fun?

I could say something about enlargements, but I'd shock you all. And we can't have me tarnishing my nice image.

Boy Kim said...

You disappoint me. I thought you knew me well enough by now to know that the manogram will be much more fun.

Tania said...

To be honest, I never consider my reading habits in terms of author gender until I come across articles or blog posts that deal with the subject. There are so many elements of a book that are important to me, and the gender of the author isn't one of them.

I've been both disappointed and wowed by authors of both genders. I probably read slightly more male authors because lately I've been dipping my reading toes into the darker end of the pool, and there are more male authors writing those kinds of books. It has to do with availability rather than any conscious effort to seek out male authors.

Being a bit of a tomboy myself, and not really interested in shopping or cats (well except for my own 4), it's important to point out that there are a lot of female authors that are writing books that have absolutely nothing to do with shopping or cats. It would be a shame to lump all female authors together because (thankfully) there is a wide variety of styles of books being written by women.

You asked about favourite writers, so off the top of my head...

Male: John Sandford, Peter Robinson, Ken Bruen, Duane Swierczynski, Robert Crais, Simon Kernick, Jeff Lindsay, John Harvey

Female: Gail Bowen, Mel H. Malton, Barbara Seranella, Karin Slaughter, Minette Walters, Alison Gordon (sadly, no longer writing fiction), Denise Mina

Sandra Ruttan said...

Oh, right Kim - I suppose knives are involved in the other!

Tania, excellent points, and in fact, I'll be talking noir tomorrow with a quote from Karin Slaughter that I found very interesting!

But how did I leave Mel Malton off my list? I love Mel too.

You're so right that there are plenty of women writing about more than fashion or cats, and I hope I came 'round to that somewhere in my post, because once I started to distinguish between the subgenres of mysteries, I found it much easier to identify female writers I really like.

And if you want female dark, look forward to Cornelia Read!

James Goodman said...

My favorite male author right now is, David Niall Wilson. But it is a close one, there are several out there that I really enjoy.

My favorite Female author is, again, there are actually more than one that are really close, but I would have to go with...hell, the one I;m reading right now, Laurell K Hamilton.

My theme song is:

Your Theme Song is Born to Be Wild by Steppenwolf

"I like smoke and lightning
Heavy metal thunder
Racin' with the wind
And the feelin' that I'm under"

A total independent spirit, you can't be held down or fenced in.
You crave the feeling of wind on your face... and totally freedom.

Sandra Ruttan said...

James, I can see you with the shades in a convertible, top down, sun shining, Steppenwolf blaring from the speakers!

Lisa Hunter said...

Lisa Reardon is my favorite crime fiction writer, male or female. She takes the genre to a whole new level, the way John LeCarre did with espionage fiction in The Spy Who Came In From the Cold.

P.S. I don't accept your premise about women and feminism. But that's a discussion for another day.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Lisa, I'll have to add Lisa Reardon to my list.

And I'm not anti-women. Maybe we should debate on the blog some time - throw a little mud in, wear tight t-shirts...

Joking. But I'm one of those people that things sometimes affirmative action ends up in reverse discrimination.

I'm glad to have found so many women I really respect and admire. But I still find it hard to get to know women. Even in the whole writing thing, the guys are usually much easier to talk to.

I've given up analyzing why. Maybe I'm intimidated by women? But via blogging, I've gotten to know a lot of great women, so that's good.

Kate said...

"But generally, if you feel you have to prove something, isn’t that rooted in the belief that you’re inferior?"

I'd have thought it was most likely to be rooted in other people's belief that you are inferior.

I don't see why female crime writers would feel they had anything to prove, but maybe it's different in the US. Historically in the UK crime fiction has been dominated by women.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Just wait for my post tomorrow, Kate!

Boy Kim said...

"Historically in the UK crime fiction has been dominated by women."

Damn, so near and yet so far.

Karen Olson said...

Sandra, you're going to love Denise Mina. She's so dark, but her books are laced with clever wit that keeps you from falling into the abyss.

I went through a stage where I read only women crime writers, but then branched out when I realized how many great male crime writers there are.

I've met and read a lot of great writers this past year, and I see a lot of their names in your list over at the right on your blog. But I don't see any of the First Offenders...come check us out when you can and you might discover a few more!

Sandra Ruttan said...

I'll do that Karen! Isn't it funny how we go through phases?

I'm not even getting on my British-American bandwagon. But nobody's noticed that the men are mainly British and the women mainly American. What's up with that?

I'm just getting into Pelecanos and Lehane and Michael Connelly...

Bonnie Calhoun said...

My favorite female crime writer is Brandilyn Collins...hands down! If I had to pick a second...Dee Henderson.

The men I like are more action/adventure than crime....Frank Peretti, Ted Dekker and Alton Gansky.

I guess it wouldn't be fair to say that I know all of these people personally, but that didn't color my judgement!

Sandra Ruttan said...

Bonnie, you know Frank Peretti?!

I read This Present Darkness and Piercing the Darkness ages ago - I see he's transitioned over to mainstream crime fiction. Keep meaning to check that out!

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