In the first part of this article on my influences, I looked to the old school, U.S. hard-boiled genre. In this second part I would like to fly back across the Atlantic, to look at the British crime writers that have both inspired and enthralled me.
In many ways the notion of a "private detective" was born with the creation of Sherlock Holmes. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's hero considered himself a consulting detective but he was essentially outside the normal police structure and worked to his own rules. Doyle's use of forensics in the stories, combined with a hint of the supernatural, made Holmes a huge hit with the Victorians and his popularity remains undiminished today; a film and a TV series both being released within the last few months.
Holmes relationship with Watson, his friend and slightly less brilliant mind, is something that appears in much of modern detective fiction in the U.K.
Inspector Morse, Colin Dexter's fantastic Oxford police detective has Lewis. The much put upon, yet relied upon Sergeant, played the Watson role to Morse's Holmes. Morse could have been a brilliant academic, yet he works as a Chief Inspector in the Thames Valley police. He investigates the crimes of the Fellows and Dons of Oxford University who could have been his colleagues. I love Dexter's characters, who are all interesting and flawed human beings. None more so than the socially awkward Morse, so brilliantly played by John Thaw in the TV series.
Another detective who relies on a partner to stop him straying too far from police procedure is Ian Rankin's John Rebus. Rebus is the epitome of the maverick detective. He riles superiors as often as he annoys the criminal fraternity of Scotland's capital city. Detective Sergeant Siobhan Clarke is the person tasked to work with Rebus, to keep his genius on track. Rebus moves through the heights and depths of Edinburgh's society with the same disdain for the people who step out of the boundaries of the law. Rankin is a master of the complicated plot, painting magnificently, Edinburgh, in all its shades of dark and light.
Moving further south, to Nottingham, we find John Harvey's Charlie Resnick. Resnick is of Polish descent, has a love of jazz music and strange sandwiches. The Resnick series of books are among my favourites and his sergeant, Lynn Kellog, is one of the key elements. She is a brilliant foil for Charlie as they investigate the seedier side of the city in the East Midlands.
I'll finish this part by looking at another "private detective". It's not a middle-aged, tough ex-cop but a demure lady of late middle-age in the heart of Home Counties England. I am, of course, referring to Miss Marple. Agatha Christie's unlikely nemesis for the murderers and thieves that came across her path. I must admit, I didn't always get the appeal of either Miss Marple or Christie's other great detective, Poirot. I always struggled with the idea of the well-heeled, middle-class culprits committing crimes of passion. However, as time has passed, I have discovered Christie to be among the very best at plotting a novel in a way that leaves you guessing up to the very end. A skill that I hope to get better at over the coming years.
In the last of this series, I will look at some continental writers that have captured my imagination.