Praise for Declan Burke: “Burke shows again that he’s not just a comic genius, but also a fine dramatic writer and storyteller.” – Booklist. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – Spectator. “Among the most memorable books of the year, of any genre.” – Sunday Times. “A hardboiled delight.” – Guardian. “Imagine Donald Westlake and Richard Stark collaborating on a screwball noir.” – Kirkus Reviews. “A cross between Raymond Chandler and Flann O’Brien.” – John Banville.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Big Question: Is Crime Writing Recession-Proof?

A Grand Vizier writes: “You may not have noticed, given that you’re very probably dealing with the fall-out from the global credit crunch and rocketing oil prices wherever you are, but Ireland has recently slipped into recession (Dublin pictured right, yesterday). Which is no mean feat, given that the Irish economy was the third-fastest growing economy in the entire Milky Way only two years ago. Anyhoo, we’re officially heading for Black ’47 all over again if reports are to be believed, and it’ll only take one half-mottled spud to spark a full-scale stampede to the airports and ferries.
“Meanwhile, crime writing tends to flourish in boom periods, when cities and countries are awash with new cash and opportunities to sluice off the overflow. Journalism provides the first draft of history, crime writing the second, and then everyone else piles in with their stories of romance and Martian monsters and floating arks.
“The recent explosion in crime writing here in Ireland has been attributed to two factors – the Celtic Tiger economic boom, and the ending of the 30-year ‘Troubles’ in Northern Ireland, and the criminal activities associated with both developments. But what happens when we move into the all-too-familiar depths of recession? Crime itself, obviously, is recession-proof – there’s nothing like a recession and / or depression to increase the demand for illicit substances, prostitution and illegal weaponry, to mention only three aspects of criminality.
“But when things turn depressingly awful, do people really want to read about it in their fiction? Is the appetite for lurid stories sated by a grim diet of rising interest rates, repossessions, unemployment and emigration? And – crudely – can people afford to buy books in the same numbers as when an economy is booming? Not that any writer is getting fat by selling books in Ireland alone. But this appears to be a global recession, with the very distinct possibility that there’s a global depression in the post.
“People won’t stop reading, of course, so libraries may well be due something of a boom at the expense of retailers – and it may be time to club together to open a second-hand bookshop, people. In the meantime, from a writing point of view, we’re nominating THIEVES LIKE US as a depression-era novel to aspire to. Any other suggestions?”


adrian mckinty said...


In the US during the 30's when the country was in depression there were hobo camps in NYC, 29 percent unemployment, banks busting, food shortages, what happened? Well we got five brand new Hammett novels and the invention of a genre. The prosperous 50's and sixties were the era of sci-fi, but then again in the 70's the oil shock sent the world into a death spiral and we got The Conversation, French Connection and the rediscovery of crime fiction. Prosperity = Beverly Hills Cop, Harry Potter and The Da Vinci Code. Recession = introspection, moodiness and sales.

Or maybe we're all screwed.

David Baynham said...

Dec, Another depression era novel, the great "Thet Shoot Horses, Don't They" as people dance marathons to keep up. Sound familiar? It should, as the couples go round and round not getting anywhere in order to earn pennies, but they wear themselves out trying to keep up. A great novel with contemporary resonance, written by Horace McCoy.

David Baynham said...

PS: Incidently, the Nicholas Ray film version of Edward Anderson's novel with Cathy O'Donnell and Farley Granger made in 1948 is terrific!

Josh Schrank said...

Dec, Anderson's first book, "Hungry Men" was as good, if not better than "Thieves Like Us." It was more raw, and in a way much more honest to what he had experienced in his personal life.

bookwitch said...

Is that your house? Where's the deck where you talk to Karlsson?

Josh Schrank said...

speaking of people not reading, have you (or Hag's Head) given any thought to putting your books on Kindle? While it would mean I couldn't get a signed copy... I could have read the Big O by now. ;)

John McFetridge said...

We'll see about all this recession talk. The big rumour in Toronto this week is that we've offered Hakan Sukur four million bucks for a year and half to play "soccer."

Serioulsy, though, in the value for money category books are very much near the top. There's a lot of fat to be trimmed this time around that just wasn't the case last time.

Besides, as you say, there'll be plenty more 'crime' so there'll be even more interest.

We just have to be able to live with the fact that we profit from all this - I guess we should be glad we profit so little....

Declan Burke said...

Adrian – I hear what you’re saying about the ’30s Depression, but Hammett, Chandler and Cain were writing in what was probably the most prosperous state at the time, California … certainly prosperous enough to be the Promised Land for half the country who headed there. But you’re probably right about prosperity breeding smugness and irrelevance … the Celtic Tiger era will be remembered in Ireland, books-wise, for chick-lit, not crime fiction. David – I’m a big fan of Horace McCoy, KISS TOMORROW GOODBYE is terrific … and They Drive By Night is the best of the Thieves Like Us adaptations, definitely. Josh – I’ve heard of HUNGRY MEN but haven’t been able to lay my hands on it yet … one to look out for, no doubt. As for the Kindle thing – one step at a time, squire. Let’s get the book on the shelves of the U.S. before we go stark raving mad … John, Hakan Sukur isn’t worth that kind of money, not by a long chalk … plus the guy’s practically on a Zimmer-frame at this stage. As for writers profiting from crime – crime is always going to be there, and telling ourselves stories about our fears is as ancient as mankind itself. If I ever turn a profit at it, you’ll be the first to know. Ms Witch? Behave, ma’am … Cheers, Dec

Colin said...

The depresssion, Greek myths (and I've just published Orpheus Rising), long dark nights of the soul, the Celtic Tiger stuffed and Crime Always Pays has taken a dive into the deep end. It reminds me of primary school for some reason when we went to the local swimming pool and a boy in my class thought he would be clever and put his arm bands on his feet and jumped in, and almost drowned. I'm not sure why it reminds me of this, but there you go. I think if everyone is feeling gloomy they should check out Simon's Cat on Youtube.

colman said...

He must be about 90 by now.I thought I saw him in a kebab shop in Leighton Buzzard!

colman said...

I read both earlier this year, and have to say McCoy was more enjoyable.
Not read anything else though, by either

Conduit said...

I lean to Adrian's way of thinking. It at least holds true for cinema. It's a Wonderful Life tanked when it was first released after WW2 because the American public couldn't stomach anything so sugary in such difficult times. The 70s saw a boom in darker cinema, and a similar wave followed the recession of the early 90s.

It depends whether storytelling's purpose is to reflect the reality of a time, or counter-balance it with opposites. You raise a valid point that the Celtic Tiger gave us Cecelia Ahern, but I suppose it also gave us Ken Bruen.

Books do represent good value for money, though, and there's also what's called the 'lipstick phenomenon', whereby people who can't afford the big luxuries anymore, like holidays or a new three-piece suite, will treat themselves to smaller items instead, for example, lipstick. Maybe the same applies to books. Christ, I hope so; it'd be just my luck to get published at exactly the moment when no one has any money to buy my book!

A side note: What gets me these days is how everybody is going, "Huh? Recession? Housing slump? Credit crunch?" as if this hasn't been looming for the last few years.

Patricia J. Hale said...


Related article in the Wall Street Journal today! (I think they stole it from Crime Always Pays)