This is the second part of a two-part interview. In the first part I lamented how Patrick Anderson has my dream job: Getting paid to read thrillers and write about them for The Washington Post.
Since then I read the rest of the book and my opinion of him has turned from jealousy to pride, proud that he has the same goal as me even if he does get paid for his work:
Jonathan Yardley, the Post's Pulitzer Prize-winning book critic, once wrote that Edmund Wilson "saw it as his mission to introduce worthy writers to intelligent lay readers." Clearly I'm not Wilson and the authors I'm championing are not the celebrated modernists he admired, but I like to think I share that admirable goal - to introduce worthy writers to intelligent readers. There are a lot of both out there, and I hope this book helps bring them together.
Reading this book was a bit surreal as 95 percent of the time I agreed with his opinions. For example I've long championed Michael Connelly and told everyone to read him. He takes that opinion a step further writing of Connelly and his main protagonist, Harry Bosch:
In my review of City of Bones, I said that the Bosch novels were "the best American crime series now in progress." Several novels later, I'll go further and say that if we consider the depth and seriousness that Connelly has brought to Harry's characterizations, the excellence of his plotting, the precision of his writing, his unsurpassed grasp of the police culture, and the moral gravity of his work, the Bosch novels are the finest crime series anyone has written. There is much competition: McBain, Pelecanos, Burke, Chandler, MacDonald - all have done wonderful work. But I don't think anyone has written at such a high level for so long. For those of us who accept Harry, warts and al, there are few more affecting portraits of an angry, damaged, tormented idealist in American fiction.
He has a great chapter addressing a question I often ask of mystery writers - whether they are losing some of their creativity and independence by writing a series with the same character. He gives good examples of how it works fine for some authors but not others.
The biggest common thread through the book is the question of whether thrillers should be taken seriously, whether the time has come - obviously he says it has - for modern thrillers to be considered good true literature:
A lot of people have a hard time making the leap from officially approved "literary" fiction to novels that are fun... I received an e-mail recently from a college student in Houston, an English major, asking what thrillers he should read - or whether he should read them at all. "I am racked with guilt if I read any of this stuff. Life is short. I haven't finished all of Dickens or Shakespeare. Do I have time for detective novels?" I could only advise him that life is longer than he at present understands and that there is time for, say, Elmore Leonard and Dennis Lehane along with Dickens and Shakespeare."
He similarly chafes at labels:
It annoys me to see fine writers dismissed as genre writers - crime novelists, spy novelists, and the like - by those who salivate over the latest incomprehensible postmodern gimmickry. A book is a book is a book. Labels are necessary to organize bookstores, but serious readers should pay them no mind. In these pages, I will follow one paramount rule: to judge writers not by their reputations but by the words they put on paper. Reputations are what other people think; this book is what I think.
With that let us turn to this interview. Anderson begins at, well, the beginning, looking at the history of crime fiction. He devotes an admittedly an inordinate amount of space to Raymond Chandler because he is bothered by some of Chandler's writing.