Why Don’t Crime Novels Reflect The New London?
The new census data about Britain is revealing. Christians are down by 13% to 59%, people with no religion are up to 25%, the white population is down 5 points to 85%, whites in London are down to 59%, 1 in 3 Londoners are born abroad, the Muslim population is up to nearly 5%, property renters are up, mortgage owners are down, and yesterday a very proud Sikh guardsman worn his turban instead of a bearskin for the first time. Gay marriage is being approved by the Tories (who expected that?) although the Church of England has opted out, and the UKIP party are frothing at the mouth about it all.
All in all, there’s a real sense that the country is changing, with economic mobility being the catalyst. Racism has comparatively become a thing of the past, crime is falling, but the gap between rich and poor has widened.
However, there is a part of England that forever has an alcoholic copper with a dead wife, investigating a murdered girl who turns out to be an Eastern European sex worker. This idea might have been surprising ten years ago, so why does it still turn up so frequently?
Lately there have been some terrific thrillers from Irish and Scottish authors that reflect the changing world – so why are there so few set in the nexus of all this transformation? In my review pile for January there’s not one single contemporary London thriller. The best new crime novel I’ve read lately is ‘Gun Machine’ by Warren Ellis, who lives in Southend, but his book is set in Manhattan. More novels in translation are arriving, plus a hefty stack from the US, but most of the London ones are set in the past.
One writer suggested that the ubiquity of CCTV has made it harder to construct a cat-and-mouse game between cops and criminals, but I hope I’ve already proven that wrong by having someone commit a murder beneath cameras on the London Underground (Bryant & May Off The Rails). Crime writers are supposed to enjoy challenges!
I’m currently pitching two contemporary thrillers, and already I’m concerned that they’ll find no takers in a time when TV shows about Sherlock Holmes, fifties’ midwives and titled families are all the rage. Yesterday I had lunch with twenty writers, most of whom seemed to have an idea for a modern twist on an old story set in London, but all are encountering resistance from publishers. What about Oscar Wilde catching Jack the Ripper, one publisher recently suggested. I wanted to him him with a cricket bat.
Well, we’ll continue to push for something different. I’ll let you know how it turns out…