What Got You Hooked on Crime, Bernadette?

After a couple of failed attempts, I’m delighted to finally be able to feature one of my favourite crime reviewers here. Bernadette is joining us all the way from Australia, the land that book publishing forgot, as she humorously says on her blog Reactions to Reading. In an effort to improve international knowledge of Australian crime fiction, she also runs a blog called Fair Dinkum Crime and you can find her on Twitter too.

How did you get hooked on crime fiction?

Me ReadingI guess I can thank (or blame?) a combination of my mum and the librarian at our local branch of the Mechanics’ Institute (it didn’t become a Council operated public library until I was a teenager). Mum always took my brother and me along on her weekly trips to the library, so from early on I became as voracious a reader as she was. Early on I read the Famous Five and Bobbsey Twins, although apparently I derided these at an early age declaring them not to be criminal enough. I then moved on to Trixie Beldon and Nancy Drew, but it wasn’t long before I’d exhausted the kids’ stuff. So Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, Nero Wolfe and Dick Francis followed. I’ve dabbled with other genres over the years – including a pretty intense horror phase in my teens – but I always make my way back to crime fiction.

Are there any particular types of crime fiction or subgenres that you prefer to read and why?

I used to say I give anything a go but that’s not really true anymore. If it ever was. I avoid some subjects all together – gangsters and mafia storylines top of the list – and am very choosy these days about reading books featuring serial killers. I guess it’s still possible that someone will come up with a new take on that trope but most of what I see is derivative and boring. I also avoid books that feature ‘too much’ gratuitous violence. I know that defining ‘too much’ is subjective but I am heartily sick of reading about the hacked up bodies of women (‘cos in the types of books I’m thinking of it is almost always women who are tortured and mutilated).

Other than the above-mentioned things, I try to read a mixture of subgenres but my heart will always be won over by a story with a point. I love a good yarn, and even more one that explores some political or social issue. Books that show me some aspect of life I am unfamiliar with or take me into some part of the world I’ve never been to (even those close to my backyard) or make me think differently about a topical subject are the sort of thing I look for these days.

What is the most memorable book you’ve read recently?

I’ve had a really great reading year so far but if pushed to choose just one I’d have to say Malla Nunn’s Present Darkness is the most memorable. Malla Nunn migrated to Australia from South Africa many years ago (lucky for us) but she sets her books in the country of her birth in the early days of apartheid. Present Darkness is the fourth book in her series and while I’ve thought its predecessors all excellent this one was her best yet. It does exactly what I was talking about earlier – it really gives readers a glimpse of the day-to-day grind and fear and inhumanity of being a black person living under that regime. Plus it’s a helluva yarn.

If you had to choose only one series or only one author to take with you to a deserted island, whom would you choose?

I’ve spent way too long thinking about this question. Way, way too long. The likelihood of me actually being stuck on a deserted island after having had an opportunity to select some books to take along is really, really tiny. So I know my answer doesn’t actually matter. But still…

For a while my answer was going to be Dick Francis. I have a soft spot for this author, partly due to him being one of my mum’s favourites. For years each time he had a new book out, we would both get hold of a copy and compare notes as quickly as we could. The other part of my fondness is due to the global availability of his books. When I was young and un-arthritic I did a fair bit of backpacking and the biggest problem was finding something to read (I am woefully monolingual). Even when travelling there is lots of down time but in a pre-Kindle world you couldn’t carry a dozen or more books. I have scoured newsstands and second-hand stalls in many countries of the world and can report that if you’re looking for something to read in English in some far-flung part of the globe you can just about guarantee to find novels by Barbara Cartland and Dick Francis (or at least you could in the late 80’s and 90’s when I was abroad). As I’ve never been a romance reader, I always opted for the Francis books and I am eternally grateful to his global appeal.

But I have read them all multiple times so think I would want something a bit fresher on my island sojourn. It is tempting to opt for a long series that I’ve never started – maybe Ed McBain’s 87th St. precinct novels for example – but what if I don’t like even the first one? How depressing to be stuck on an island with plenty to read and no motivation to do so.

So after way too much thought I’ve decided to opt for the novels of Reginald Hill. I’ve read enough of them to know that I like his style a great deal but some would be completely new to me and even those that would be re-reads are still fresh enough. If I were allowed two series/sets of authors I’d throw in the Martin Beck novels by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo. I’ve only read 2 or 3 of these and very much want to read them all. But there are only 10 and they’re very thin. Not bulky enough for a long stint on a deserted island.


What are you looking forward to reading in the near future?

I’ve just put all six books shortlisted for this year’s Petrona Award on hold at the library. In recent years I have thoroughly enjoyed expanding my reading horizons via the explosion in translated crime novels from across the globe. But I have a soft spot for this award named in honour of a fellow crime fiction lover who passed away far too soon. Her love of good quality crime fiction in translation has been ably honoured by the previous shortlists and I’m really looking forward to getting stuck into this year’s selection.

Outside your criminal reading pursuits, what author/series/book/genre do you find yourself regularly recommending to your friends?

I love historical fiction and not only the kind that involves murder. I think the book I’ve recommended most over the years is Geraldine Brooks’ Year of Wonders: plague, a strong female character, a not so subtle dig at religious hypocrisy – what more could you ask for?

Thank you so much, Bernadette, for your very amusing and candid observations; it’s certainly been worth the wait. I love the fact that all of my interviewees seem to assume a lengthy stay on a deserted island and are very much afraid of running out of reading material. As for me, I’d be terrified that I get rescued too soon and don’t have enough time to read everything!

What do you think of Bernadette’s choices? It reminds me that I certainly must read Malla Nunn, about whom I’ve heard such good things. You can see previous respondents in the series here and for future interviewees: well, you know the drill… Please let me know if you’d like to participate. I’m always eager to hear your recommendations.

23 thoughts on “What Got You Hooked on Crime, Bernadette?”

  1. Love this Bernadette’s choices, I also love historical fiction when I’m not reading crime and Year of Wonders is one of my favourites, in fact it features on my header picture. My grandmother used to stock up on Dick Francis novels for me when I was in my early teens so I always had a new set to read when I visited and Bernadette’s comments prompted fond memories of those special times

    1. How lovely to hear, Cleo! Dick Francis is such a great example of books that appeal to different generations of readers, isn’t he? Agatha Christie is perhaps another, but there aren’t many that fit into this category.

  2. Thanks for featuring me here…always fun to get to blather on about crime fiction. As for the length of stay on that island I know in my case I have very few skills that would enable me to get myself off…then again I probably wouldn’t survive long enough to read a whole set of books either. Though I can light a fire without matches (or got a badge for it when I was 11, hope I can still remember).

    1. You’re awake! I was berating myself for not posting this earlier, when you might have a chance of reading it, with the time difference. Yes, I wouldn’t have many skills for surviving either, but at the moment a peaceful stay somewhere out of sound range of my family, taxman, admin stuff sounds like utter bliss. I probably wouldn’t struggle too hard to be rescued!

  3. I really enjoy these posts too. Bernadette’s choices have reminded me that I must get around to trying the Martin Beck novels at some point. Am I right in thinking that Sjowall and Wahloo shared the writing by working on alternate chapters?

  4. Great interview! I’ve often wondered if my childhood love of the Famous Five and Blyton’s Adventure series are what made me love crime fiction as a grown up!

  5. So excited that you interviewed Bernadette, Marina Sofia! A definite coup for you.
    Bernadette, I started on my crime journey because of being taken to the library too. Dangerous places, aren’t they? And I couldn’t possibly agree with you more about the whole serial killer motif and the large number of beautiful women who end up victims in such novels. I’ve had a bellyful and more of that too. And as to Reginald Hill’s work? I think that’s an excellent choice.

    1. Isn’t it lovely to hear all the way from Australia as well? I was very pleased we managed to get this interview off the ground. And some lovely recommendations there,,, I completely agree with you ladies, the serial killer can be a very tiresome trope. Although, having said that, I’ve just finished Child 44 where it worked really well…

  6. Great post and choices! I think I’m the only one in this series that’s never read Enid Blyton– hard to find in central Indiana in the 80s, I think. Thanks for proselytizing for Malla Nunn too: I’m a big fan now.

    1. You should rejoice in your originality, Rebecca. I wouldn’t normally have had access to Enid Blyton myself, since I grew up in Austria and Romania, but I happened to go to an English school for a while, so she was the author of choice for book sales and swaps.

  7. I always found the Bobbsey twins a bit creepy, to be honest. Nan and Bert were sorta OK, though in a too good to be true kind of way, but Freddie and Flossie should have been signed up by Hammer Horror (even thinking of their names makes me shudder… 😉 ) But I’m with Bernadette all the way on Reginald Hill…

    1. I’ve only vaguely heard of the Bobbsey twins, so I couldn’t possibly comment. Perhaps it’s like clowns? Some people actually like them, while others are terrified at the very thought?

      1. I can’t remember too much about those twins actually…but when your choices are very limited (it was a small library and I read A LOT) you take what you can get :O)

    1. She’s the one writer most commonly mentioned by every one of my interviewees as the gateway into crime fiction… wel, her and Enid Blyton, of course…

  8. I have read all of Agatha Christie’s books & some crime books ~ I am also into crime TV series but lately I haven’t kept up so I am reading your interview ~ Will check out Present Darkness series ~ Thanks for this Marina ~ Have a good week ~

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