Sunday, 6 April 2008

Comparisons

When I talked about the comparison made by Sally Hinchcliffe’s publishers with the work of Nicci French and Barbara Vine, it led me to thinking about comparisons often made by reviewers of crime fiction. They are usually meant to be signposts to readers – along the lines of ‘if you like X, you’ll love Y’. But sometimes they can be a substitute for proper assessment of an author on his or her own merits – anyone who writes about horses is almost certain to be compared to Dick Francis, but that isn’t necessarily helpful to anyone. Sometimes the comparisons can be highly gratifyng, but sometimes a little misleading. And, sometimes, quite bizarre.

To illustrate my point, here are just a few of the crime novelists with whom (believe it or not) I’ve been compared by reviewers:

Colin Dexter
John Grisham
Ian Rankin
Deborah Crombie
Elizabeth George
Early P.D. James
Raymond Chandler
Peter Robinson

Goodness, a very mixed bag! The one thing they have in common is that they have all sold many more books than me. As far as I'm concerned, all positive reviews are welcome and comparisons with writers who are much more successful are, of course, flattering - even though I recognise that, ultimately, an author has to be judged on his or her own merits. All that said, I must confess the comparisons with Chandler and Grisham left me utterly baffled, simply because I didn’t see any significant similarities between my work and theirs. Anyone reading my books with a legal setting and hoping for a Grisham-style blockbusting thriller is bound to be disappointed. He and I are aiming to do quite different things.

But of course, some of the other comparisons, whether over-generous or not, pleased me a good deal...

4 comments:

maxine said...

On Nicci French, I'd say that Sophie Hannah is writing novels very much in "her" vein. I would not say that NF and Barbara Vine were obviously similar.

I read the first book by Mark Giminez as it was billed as being like John Grisham (MG was apparently lucky to have been picked up by JG's publisher in a year in which JG did not write a legal thriller but instead wrote one of his "mainstream" books.) Although I quite liked it, I probably would not read another one of his -- but the initial hook worked.

I may have started reading Stephen White because of the comparisons to Jonathan Kellerman. These days, SW is much better, as JK has gone into potboiler territory, sadly.

Patricia Cornwell, Kathy Reichs and Karin Slaughter have all been likened to each other. I prefer the last named because the detective aspect is much more strong than in the previous two, which seem to me mainly to be about pathological details.

As for your books, Martin - I agree that the comparisons between some of the above seem strange, though others are more understandable. How about John Harvey, have your books ever been likened to his?

Martin Edwards said...

Maxine, I think you've hit the nal on the head as to why publishers, at least, make these comparisons.

Barbara Vine is my favourite modern crime author (also under her real name as Ruth Rendell) so I do think she is unique. I've read some French books, and much enjoyed Killing Me Softly.

Sophie Hannah is a very interesting writer. I first met her at a readers' event a couple of years back when we were asked to name crime writers we admired. We came up with precisely the same names.

John Harvey is a writer I've long admired, though I don't think I've ever been bracketed specifically with him. I read Lonely Hearts at the time I was writing All the Lonely People, and it made a big impression on me. I'm not surprised he went on to enjoy success, which continues to increase. Thinking he was a new author, I was daunted by his expert craftsmanship. Only later did I realise that he'd served a long apprenticeship, writing westerns, among other things, for years before he turned to crime.

maxine said...

I agree about the publisher hooks, Martin. Blurb writers are also a case in point -- if Val McD or Stephen King likes it, so might I? -- I mention those two as "serial blurb writers"!

But actually I would not bracket your books with Harvey's. I haven't read his westerns but have read all his Resnick and Elder books -- I think they are more introspective than yours and more constrained in framework. I don't mean that in a negative sense - but that the Resnick books are "police procedurals" and I think yours (that I've read) are outside that boundary.

The truth of the matter of what I think is that you can't link authors by putting two sets of name together. What I find interesting is an essay about authors in which the writer has a thesis. And these days, I tend to get my recommendations of new authors from blog reviews and updates rather than from the publishers themselves.

maxine said...

PS I meant to mention in the comment above, but forgot, that last night I looked up your latest novel "Waterloo Sunset" on Amazon, to see that in the section "you might also like..." featured John Harvey's latest! That is an amazing coincidence after the question I asked you (unless you share a publisher ;-) which I know you don't, I just wrote that as a joke).

BTW, Waterloo Sunset's cover is not yet on its Amazon entry.