Monday, July 11, 2011

No Rest for the Dead: Do too many crime writers spoil the plot?

The Telegraph: No Rest for the Dead: Do too many crime writers spoil the plot?
I'm not a fan of those portmanteau films in which several directors contribute segments: the good bits tend to be so few and far between that watching them is like eating a plate of cold rice pudding to get at the tiny dollop of jam. And multi-authored books sound like an even worse idea: surely part of the pleasure of a novel is in being introduced to one person's unique vision of the world?

But then you could take Alain de Botton's view that "most books would undoubtedly be greater if - like the best US TV shows - they had 18 authors to them." Well, No Rest for the Dead, published this week, ought to be a masterpiece as it boasts no fewer than 26.

The contributors to this thriller, all mega-selling crime writers, have each written a chapter based on an outline by the Strand magazine editor Andrew Gulli, without seeing each other's work. The enterprise will raise funds for the Leukaemia and Lymphoma Society, and participants include Jeffery Deaver, the American thriller-writer who recently resuscitated James Bond, and Alexander McCall Smith, who is used to collaborative projects, having regularly incorporated readers' suggestions into the daily serials he has written for this website.

There are precedents for this kind of chain-thriller. HarperCollins has recently reissued The Floating Admiral (1931), a collaboration between Agatha Christie, Dorothy L Sayers, GK Chesterton and such less well-remembered names as Canon Victor L Whitchurch, creator of the "vegetarian railway detective" Thorpe Hazell. (Which of today's literary Ozymandiases will have been forgotten, I wonder, when No Rest for the Dead is reissued in 80 years' time?)

All of these multi-author books are best read in the slightly archaic playful spirit that characterised 1930s crime writing, a chance to watch writers unbend and head away from their comfort zones a little. And unless you send each of your favourite crime writers a coded note inviting them to meet you at Mayhem Parva Vicarage at the stroke of midnight, where else will you find so many of them gathered together in one place?

No comments:

Post a Comment