Today I was deeply saddened to learn that Maxine Clarke, one of the world's most voracious readers of crime fiction, as well as one of its best critics, has passed away.
Mystery lovers on both sides of the pond are well acquainted with Maxine's alter-ego, Petrona, under which she blogged. In trying to think of an appropriate title for this tribute to her, I experimented with several. "The Angel of Mystery" - too sappy. "Mystery's Best Emissary" - not bad, because I'd be hard pressed to identify any critic who loved and supported the genre more. The best I can come up with is "The Conscience of the Mystery" - because she kept everyone honest: writers, publishers, editors, critics, other reviewers. When she loved something, she told us why and made us go to Amazon to buy the book immediately; when she hated something, she skewered it efficiently, intellectually, devastatingly. In the end, I decided to file this blog entry under "The Best of Mystery" and "The Best of Books" because Maxine belongs in both categories.
I did not know Maxine well, or personally. We corresponded a bit over the years, and she was kind enough to do a guest blog for Mysterious Matters. She was a tireless advocate for crime fiction in translation and, through her blog, introduced me to writers who have since become favorites. What an editor of crime fiction she would have been, if she had chosen that career path instead of scientific publishing, on which she made a mark that was just as deep and important.
Maxine's writing and criticism were a unique mix of intellectual honesty and passion. She said what she thought, directly and openly; let's not forget, this is the woman who, not too long ago, suggested that Otto Penzler is an idiot. (Just typing that sentence makes me nervous.) She wasn't afraid to disagree openly, and she did so often; but what disagreement it was! It was never of the you're-a-stupid-jerk-for-thinking-that-way, god-what-a-ignorant-fool-you-are variety. It was "You liked that? I didn't; and we'll just have to agree to disagree on this one." Which, for me, is the epitome of what civilized discourse should be about.
Maxine, all of us who publish, edit, write, publicize, read, and love mysteries will miss you. Rest in peace.