Crime writers making the cut for the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature
When the line-up was announced for the Emirates Festival of Literature earlier this month, the sheer number of top crime writers flying into Dubai in March was immediately striking. Don't know where to start? There's plenty of time to tear through your title of choice before the festival, especially with our guide on what to read from each author
Special Assignments by Boris Akunin
Of course, there's a certain sense in reading a crime series featuring a Tsarist detective with the demeanour of a dashing British gentleman and the sword skills of a Japanese samurai right from the start. But in the case of the Russian writer Boris Akunin - the pseudonym of Grigory Chkhartishvili, who only began writing his 19th-century historical crime fiction in his 40s - it was the fifth book in his Erast Fandorin series that really signalled the arrival of a true talent. Before Special Assignments - which comprises two novellas - Akunin was only selling 6,000 copies of each of his stories. But these bite-sized excursions into Fandorin's world were the perfect introduction; Russia loved their escapist charm, made Akunin a best-seller and dived headlong into his back catalogue. Now translated into English, a dog-eared and no doubt much-loved Fandorin mystery is in more than 20 million homes worldwide.
March 7, Al Baraha 2; March 8, Al Ras 1
Black And Blue by Ian Rankin
Scotland's most successful crime writer is synonymous with the hard-drinking, Edinburgh-dwelling DI John Rebus - so much so that there were howls of dismay when Rankin retired him in 2007 after 17 cases. It was no surprise when he returned last year as a civilian consultant to the police in Standing in Another's Man's Grave, and the reaction was just as rapturous. With 18 novels to choose from, where to start? A bit like Boris Akunin, it was only after a few books that Rankin got the measure of his hero and understood how and where he operated - initially there were no plans for a series. For that reason, Black And Blue might be the eighth Rebus novel, but it's also the first fully formed one, Rebus juggling four cases at once while also the subject of an internal inquiry and a television investigation. If you like your crime multilayered, Rankin's your man.
March 8, Al Ras 3; March 9, Al Ras 1
The Whisperers by John Connolly
Connolly's crime series featuring private investigator Charlie Parker has been running since 1999, but what makes this Irish writer's take on the genre so interesting is the way in which he adds macabre, supernatural elements to the mix. Middle Eastern readers will find The Whisperers a great place to start: it's framed around an Iraqi museum of antiquities looted during the Gulf War, the contents taken back to the US. But the soldiers involved begin committing suicide - and the official explanation, post-traumatic stress disorder, doesn't stack up. As the power of a mysterious box begins to hold sway over the protagonists, Connolly invokes the likes of the suspense master Stephen King, without ever tipping over into ridiculousness.
March 8, Al Ras 3; March 9, Al Noor and Suraya
Sleepyhead by Mark Billingham
Mark Billingham's novels charting the efforts of Detective Inspector Tom Thorne to clean up the streets of London are successful despite Thorne not being a particularly engaging character. Billingham, held at gunpoint himself 15 years ago, has a peculiar understanding of the consequences of crime; his stories don't have identikit victims as much as fully rounded characters. And none more so than his 2001 debut, Sleepyhead, in which the protagonist Alison is in a locked-in state, unable to speak, left alive by a sick killer by "mistake". Or was it intentional…? This May, Thorne will return for his 12th outing, but the power of Sleepyhead endures: last year it kept company with the likes of Dickens' A Tale Of Two Cities and Jane Austen's Pride And Prejudice on the World Book Night list. Some achievement.
March 8, Al Bahara 3 and Al Ras 3; March 9, Al Noor
First series of Prime Suspect by Lynda La Plante
There aren't many crime writers who are better known for their screenplays, but Lynda La Plante is certainly one of them. Her Prime Suspect series, starring Helen Mirren as DCI Jane Tennison, was essentially the blueprint for crime dramas featuring strong, powerful and intelligent female leads. Although La Plante's early success meant she was essentially encouraged to repeat the formula in Above Suspicion and The Governor, she clearly influenced a generation of TV crime: the Danish drama The Killing followed the template to a tee. La Plante did go on to write crime novels herself - in fact, there are a multitude of tie-ins with the famous television series, but they struggle to possess the sheer power of those first, groundbreaking episodes.
March 8, Al Ras 3; March 9, Al Ras 1
The Cairo Diary by Maxime Chattam
When critics bemoan the lack of interest in contemporary literature written in languages other than English, they neglect the publishing juggernaut which is European crime fiction. Stieg Larsson, Jo Nesbø, Henning Mankell - the list is long. And France has its own up-and-coming star in Maxime Chattam. Up-and-coming purely because, although Chattam is incredibly popular in his home country for his crime series set in the US, there are only a few translations into English. Of these, The Cairo Dairy is the standout, with a dual narrative set in both the British-occupied Cairo of the 1920s and present-day Paris, where a secretary in a morgue uncovers a horrific series of murders that took place 90 years previously in the Egyptian capital. One to watch.
March 8, Al Ras 1; March 9, Suraya
XO by Jeffrey Deaver
It's not often that an international, multi-million-selling author churning out the latest instalments of numerous crime series is still able to surprise and innovate. Which is why Deaver's latest novel XO is so refreshing, even though it's the third case for Special Agent Kathryn Dance, and Deaver is still possibly best known for The Bone Collector (itself the first in the Lincoln Rhyme saga). A former folk singer himself, Deaver sets Dance the task of stopping a stalker destroying a young country chanteuse - but the story isn't just confined to the page. Deaver has actually written and recorded the songs that his victim sings, available to download as the narrative progresses. It's this commitment to crafting a believable, all-encompassing world which sets Deaver apart, despite being 30 books into his career. No wonder he got the gig to write a new James Bond novel recently.
March 8 and 9, Al Ras 3
The Emirates Airline Festival of Literature is from March 5 to 9 at the InterContinental hotel in Dubai Festival City. Tickets are on sale at www.emirateslitfest.com. Main programme sessions start at Dh40. Festival Friends get 10 per cent off all tickets
Published: January 27, 2013 04:00 AM