It was a pointless exercise. I knew it was pointless but I did it anyway. There were twenty authors – on and off – gracing the platform at Deal Noir, the successful one-day mini celebration of crime fiction at the end of March. Between sessions I started to calculate the total number of books published by these authors and it came to 288. I even thought of trying to work out how many murders these twenty had committed in their work but decided life’s too short and some statistics are too meaningless.
I’ve read thousands of crime novels and thrillers and I’ve read something by most of the authors on that Deal Noir platform but nobody could possibly read everything – and isn’t that wonderful? To know that there’ll always be new authors and new titles to discover or old favourites to re-read.
And that reminds me; I read The Tooth and the Nail again. Happily I’d forgotten enough of the plot to enjoy the story now almost as much as on the first reading as a teenager. The book carries its age well. It came out in 1956 and was billed as “The Year’s Most Unusual Suspense Thriller”. On the back cover New York Times is quoted saying: “Anyone who fears that the detective story has exhausted itself … is urged to secure at once The Tooth and the Nail, in which Bill S. Ballinger presents us with a completely new trick.”
The story isn’t actually a detective story and in the intervening 59 years that new trick has been trumped by forensic science, but the plot is still very good and Ballinger’s neat and economical style feels cool and fresh, with its occasional burst of colour – when a circus arrives or a location is vividly painted with words.
As to the possibility that the detective story has exhausted itself – no way.
Crime writers are generally very clubbable and all the crime writing events I have attended have been good-natured and jolly affairs. Maybe crime authors can channel all their frustration and aggression into their books which leaves them free to spread bonhomie when in company. A new website was launched at Deal Noir, www.killerwomen.org – well worth checking out if you like to keep company with “criminally good writing,” as their promotional tag-line promises.