Crime fiction as a genre – a review of two books

Crime fiction is always a favorite genre and I know of people who are not serious readers, but who  read crime fiction. And few among us would not have read Sherlock Holmes in  our younger years, although the many visual avataars (Movies, TV) are probably more engaging for the current generations. I have enjoyed my share of ‘detective fiction‘ in my time. Although it is not among my favorite genres, by sheer chance, I ended up reading two of the genre back to back.

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The first I picked, at the library, because I had enjoyed McCullough’s non-detective books, especially Thorn Birds. The cover blurb described the setting as a neuroscience research facility and it seemed that McCullough herself was a trained neuroscientist.  I was not aware that she wrote who-dunnits and I was drawn by the the science setting. The Mankell book I sought out, after reading his brilliant Daniel, which was one of those ‘browsing in a book shop’ buys! After finishing Daniel,  when I looked up his other writings, I discovered that he is best known for his Kurt Willander detective series.

McCollough’s sleuth, Carmine Delmonico, is Italian American, a small town man in his early 40’s, divorced after a brief early marriage, and very  attached to his teenage daughter, who lives with the mother in distant California. Mankell’s Kurt Willander has an uncannily similar profile, in his early 40’s, divorced, albeit recently and also with a great love for his teenage daughter. But, there the similarities end. Carmine is a thoughtful and serious person, but the character is not well sketched. Although tough, he is shown to have his soft side. Kurt’s character is well sketched, he is sensitive and thinking person, with deep introspection into his own state. While Carmine’s family, except for a cousin who is the forensic expert on the force, play a peripheral role, Kurt’s tense and difficult relationship with a cranky artist father, his need to be there for him, his resentment of him, his anger and irritation and the card sessions all play a pivotal role in his character.

Carmine’s beat is, Holloman,  a small town in Connecticut and the action takes place in 1965 – he  cell phones, no internet  or massive databases availabale at the click of a button and policing has a sedate, thoughtful pace to it.  Mankell’s action also takes place in a small town, Ystad in Southern Province of Sweden, and while the first book ( I have read the first two) takes us through a series of short episodes, through the 60 and 70s, the bulk of the series are set in the late 80s and 90s – still prior to cell phones and internet! The policing styles  have a similar feel to it, separated by the inherent differences between the cultures separated by the Atlantic.

The stories are startlingly different. On and Off deals with a serial homicide, horrific and bizarre crimes which leave a whole community in a state of suspense and impending tragedies. Carmine is a methodical worker, and he pursues his case with doggedness and leads it to what he believes a finish. Only the reader is aware that the police have been manipulated by the killer and are not even aware that the closure they assume is not the real story or its end!! This maybe a clever trick on the part of the author, but did not really appeal to  me – in fact the crimes and the characters involved as suspects were all some what contrived!!

In Faceless killers, an elderly couple is brutally murdered in a remote farm. Kurt Wallander relentlessly tracks down every clue, even the remotest possibilities. It does not lead him anywhere and then suddenly, the killers take a wrong step and get trapped. The whole process is so ‘true to life’, all so plausible and engrossing. Kurt himself drinks too much, flogs himself for not weaning off fast foods, broods on his ex-wife – overall just another middle aged guy – but a character so well built that he grows on you. I can well understand why Henkell was so popular.

So, while I am not sure if I will be reading the next Carmine Delmonico book, I am already half way through the next Kurt Wallander one! I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good old worldly who dunnit – thrown in with some wonderful description of Northern European winters and the bleak scenery!

 

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