I am doing what I always tell my students to do - reading the genre/form I am writing. I have heard some would-be writers declaring that they won't read others authoring in their chosen genre or form. They claim it will contaminate their style or their inspiration. And yet artists, dancers, musicians and anyone else working in the creative arts will study what has come before them and their contemporary colleagues' output, so why not writers?
I am, therefore, delving into crime/mystery fiction. One of my writing friends put me onto Dorothy L Sayers. My only previous brush with this author was the TV series with Ian Carmichael in the title role, now only very hazily remembered. I was surprised to find, then, that the edition of 'Have His Carcase' I found in the library got me hooked. For sure, the language and dialogue are very dated, but for anyone interested in pace and plotting, this story fairly rattles along.
There's no doubt that crime/fiction has changed its focus since Sayers' time away from intricate story-lines. These days there is more emphasis on character building and the psychological layering of those involved. I can't imagine a modern writer attempting as complex a plot as 'Have His Carcase' which involves letters in code, people in disguises and numerous false alibis. Still I think there is something to be garnered from the skill with which Sayers sets her riddles and unravels them. And even she has started down the path of the 'flawed hero' which is so beloved of present day crime fiction. Lord Peter Wimsey is far from the perfect leading man I recall from the small screen.
In some ways, because of the lack of intense emotion expressed in the pages of her novel, she does capture something I heard a forensic pathologist comment on in an interview I saw recently. He said that, in general, crime fiction fails to portray the casualness and the indifference of the perpetrators of the violence he encounters in his job every day. Sadly, that perhaps hasn't changed in the last eighty years.