I was in the hairdressers last week and after the inevitable post-mortem of the previous night’s reality TV the conversation took a rather macabre turn when the girl in the next chair started talking about a book she was reading – The Creeper, by Tania Carver. It soon became clear that she was having trouble separating fiction from reality, finally announcing that anyone who writes that kind of thing must be a bona fide psychopath. In her mind crime writers were a twisted lot, hunched over their laptops in darkened rooms, sustained by cocktails of children’s tears and kitten blood. The next time I see her I’m going to recommend she buys The Crime Interviews, because this collection is the clearest window into the crime writer’s mind anyone could ask for.
Len Wanner has gained access to an impressive roll call of top Scottish writers – Ian Rankin, Stuart MacBride, Karen Campbell, Neil Forsythe, Chris Brookmyre, Paul Johnston, Alice Thompson, Allan Guthrie and Louise Welsh. Unlike many interviewers, who never stray far from Sunday supplement territory, he asks some big questions about the functions and responsibilities of crime fiction. Should the genre realistically reflect contemporary society? How political should a writer be? There is also much debate about the vexatious issue of ‘tartan noir’. Does it exist or is it simply a marketing device? The term is roundly ridiculed but the idea of Scottish crime writing as distinct from the English school of country house mysteries comes through strongly, along with a strain of Gaelic defiance which Wanner has tenaciously pursued throughout the collection.
The writers involved are a diverse bunch, some of whom you’ll be familiar with and some perhaps not, but they are without exception engaging and generous personalities and these interviews will definitely add to your enjoyment of their work. Did you know Ian Rankin initially thought Rebus might be a murderer? Or that Allan Guthrie’s Savage Night was inspired by Jacobean revenge tragedy? It’s all in here. And fans of Stuart MacBride should get a lot out of his interview, as he explains the subtle in-jokes woven through his books.
Naturally the interviews are predominantly concerned with the craft of crime writing, making them particularly useful to aspiring authors, but this book is a real must for all crime fiction lovers, simply because these authors haven’t spoken in such depth about their work anywhere else in print and it’s testament to Len Wanner’s skill as an interviewer that they are so forthcoming. His conversational style masks a probing and playful intellect which would put many broadsheet journalists to shame and it makes The Crime Interviews an absolute pleasure to read.
As an overview of contemporary Scottish crime writing this book is peerless and it promises great things for the next two volumes which are being reissued later in the year.
This review first appeared at Crime Fiction Lover.