Martin Doyle at the Irish Times offers the response of 13 crime writers who take issue with a professor who claimed crime novelists had a “fatal lack of talent.”
Last Friday, William O’Rourke, an emeritus professor of English at the University of Notre Dame, came to The Irish Times to praise his former protégé Michael Collins and, almost as an aside, to bury the entire crime fiction genre. Cause of death? “Fatal lack of talent.”
“Michael [Collins] has too much talent to succeed as a crime writer,” wrote O’Rourke. “He doesn’t possess the fatal lack of talent required. America really doesn’t possess enough of a literary culture anymore to maintain a writer like Michael.”
Retribution by crime writers on social media was swift. Think the denouement to Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express. Ian Rankin, bestselling author of the Rebus series, tweeted: “One needs a ‘lack of talent’ to be a crime writer. Nice...” Melanie McGrath reacted: “WTAF? Had to read this twice before I could take it in. After which I just laughed like a drain. Claire McGowan’s response was perhaps the best: “Someone needs to produce an anthology called ‘A Fatal Lack of Talent’.”
A piece I saw recently, which described crime fiction as fast food in contrast to the nourishment provided by literary fiction, was similar: an unprovoked attack.
The canard that crime fiction is inherently inferior to “serious literature” should be a dead duck by now. American literary critic Leslie Fiedler’s 1969 essay Cross the Border – Close the Gap was one of the first to challenge and fill in the perceived gap between “high art” and “popular art” or “pulp fiction”. But every now and then, an attempt like this is made to reopen the rift and sometimes 140 characters is not sufficient to tease out an issue. So I asked some of the finest Irish and international criminal minds, or crime writers at any rate, to respond in detail to O’Rourke’s dismissal of their genre, quoted here in full.
… John Banville: Lack of talent? Georges Simenon; Margery Allingham; Raymond Chandler; Donald Westlake aka Richard Stark; James M Cain; Dashiell Hammett; Ngaio Marsh; Jim Thompson; Edmund Crispin . . . and that’s only a handful of the dead ones. I rest my case.
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