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October 24, 2010


Pepper Smith

I've bought a few books by British authors recently that I got partway into and then never finished. They were all authors who had long-running series, and I'd chosen the books based on the blurb rather than on the strength of the name, as I'd never heard of many of them before.

There are others I've bought and have finished, but one thing that most of these books have in common is an emotional distance that is quite off-putting. I'm not talking about needing screaming drama queen levels of emotionalism, or a dislike of the quiet introspectiveness of characters. At its worst, it's as if there's a glass wall keeping you well back, so you can't get fingerprints on the cardboard cut-outs that the author moves around on stage at whim to fulfill the demands of the plot.

In these books, there's no real sense of who these people are, no real feel for their internal 'weather'. I have no interest in spending hours with someone who never rises above the level of cardboard cut-out.

The British authors I enjoy reading never overlook that internal 'weather', even if they're understated in the way they handle it.


Disclaimer: I am English and live in England, so probably not the best person to answer your questions!

Also I apologise for my pedantry but Stuart McBride is not English but Scottish - most Scots are deeply insulted if one calls them English. (Alexander McCall Smith is another Scot).

I am a keen reader of crime fiction from countries I don't live in, and it is a sense of what it is like to live somewhere else, the "placeism", that I so like about the novels I read. It does seem to me to be a bit parochial to eliminate a whole country's output, if that is what US readers are doing. Like any country, England is full of authors writing all kinds of genres, whether cosy, traditional, village, noir, gritty, urban, police procedural, etc.

If the US readers enjoy Scots such as Ian Rankin and Val McDermid, as I believe they do, perhaps they could try some English novels by the likes of Peter James? I bet he'd be popular with his DI Grace novels - they have many elements that I think US readers would like.


I have thoroughly enjoyed the Stuart MacBride series (though I haven't seen the latest installment here is the US-- perhaps this is related to the issues presented in your post), and Ian Rankin is always a consistent read. The latter does have some 'emotional' issues, partly due to the main character's drinking problem. But I think it's also due to a 3rd-person omniscient writing style that almost randomly switches between viewpoints mid-paragraph.

That is a fairly uncommon writing style in the US right now, but perhaps UK writers are following in his footsteps?

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