Crime Writers as hoarders of Knowledge

When I joined the Crime Writers’ Association and attended social functions I perceived that many writers led interesting lives as people other than writers. Aside from the obvious fact that crime writers convey in there books the misdeeds of the human heart, the author(s) often tempts the reader in various ways – not only with his or her ingenuity of resolving the plot – but with a back story that provides sustenance along the journey. How they equipped themselves to do this interested me.

After becoming acquainted with a number of writers it became clear that the majority of both full and part-time writers had professional backgrounds. They were mostly journalists (writers of journals), academics, and civil servants; with a few scientists (forensic naturally). Common to all was the ability to record and interpret knowledge. But what surprised me was the ease of conveying a wealth of insights about things and subject-matters quite remote from the specialist discipline or profession. They were students of society in all its aspects.

In the early nineties the Lovejoy author Jonathan Gash came to see us at our base, then near the West county city Bristol. His real job was a medical consultant in London and writing novels was a diversion. It gave him the opportunity to explore the world of antiques (when he was young he helped on a market stall and was a runner). So being a book collector I asked him if he collected books? He replied that he did indeed collect books – but not mysteries or even literature, but dictionaries! Yes, old dictionaries of words that had long changed in meaning. Words gave an insight into how society was changing.

Another time I was in Spain for the Semana Negra crime convention and chatted with the late Michael Dibden, author of the Inspector Zen detective books. His books are set in modern Italy and it seemed to me that Michael was an avid student of Italian life and culture – both good and less so. He outlook was European and no wonder that his novels are among the best of the sub-genre Eurocrime.

I would like to finish this with a comment on the remarkable performance of the Balliol College, Oxford team in the Christmas University Challenge shown on the BBC.  Team captain and crime writer Martin Edwards is renowned for knowledge of the detective story. He was spot on answering questions correctly on diverse subjects. He showed – in devastating fashion – that he indeed has a broad range of knowledge. He edited the 19 signature anthology Original Sins.

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