One of many consequences of the e-book revolution is the “opening” of both author outlet and reader access avenues. That is, with Kindle, Nook, Kobo and all the rest writers now have an alternative to the old grind of finding an agent and/or a publisher and then getting a deal and then getting published. There were many gatekeepers to get by, and the passwords were not always clear. Now, any aspiring author can put together a manuscript, format it or get it formatted for as little as $150, sign up with one or all of the leading e-book carriers and become “published” on his/her own terms. As the e-book revolution gathers pace these opportunities will open further, as witnessed by the recent landmark Microsoft decision to buy a chunk of Barnes & Noble, purely because of that company’s reach into the e-book market. (http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/news/Press/2012/Apr12/04-30CorpNews.aspx ). The inevitable point is that there will be good “stuff” and poor to bad “stuff “produced because of all this, but there will undoubtedly be a greater range of materials available to readers.
Crime fiction is a wonderful case in point. The history of its evolution from, say, Edgar Alan Poe through Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie, Dashiell Hammett, Ngaio Marsh (for New Zealand stalwarts), Georges Simenon, Raymond Chandler, Reginald Hill, Lawrence Block down to Ian Rankin, Jo Nesbo, Henning Mankell and their contemporaries is well known. Many of those have graduated to the small screen (Sherlock starring Benedict Cumberbatch perhaps the most vivid recent addition) to be joined by writers like Lynda La Plante (Wire in the Blood and Trial & Retribution), Gavin Wiesen (The Shadow Line) and Richard Cotton (Luther) along with all the writers on series like The Bill, The Wire and Taggart along with innumerable others. As a result, crime fiction is growing apace, as demonstrated by the rapid rise and popularity of events like The Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival (http://www.harrogateinternationalfestivals.co.uk/crime/ ) and the wonderfully named and imminent Bloody Scotland, another festival to be held in Stirling and headlined by Ian Rankin, the King of Tartan Noir as crowned by James Ellroy (http://www.bloodyscotland.com/ ). This is paralleled by the rise of blogsites devoted to the genre like (http://colburysnewcrimefiction.wordpress.com/ and http://scandinaviancrimefiction.wordpress.com/2012/04/ and http://acrimereadersblog.wordpress.com/2012/04/20/strangers-on-a-train/ ), all of which are more than matched by innumerable websites such as (http://www.crimefictionlover.com/ also at @CriFiLover on Twitter),( http://www.tartannoir.com/ )and ( http://www.eurocrime.co.uk/ ). The interest and the readership is growing, then, and the demand for “copy” along with it, which is where the e-books come into the picture.
There are two particularly noticeable phenomena. The first is the very rapid pace at which much of the crime fiction “list” is being transferred into e-form, ranging from the classics, forgotten former masterpieces and the currently trending authors. It seems to be that the business is driving itself hard because of pricing policies that now see many of these works available at under $10 and frequently even lower, as against a paperback copy in excess of $25 and sometimes even higher as with new release Rankin books these days. Lesser known names are going for a lot less, from 99 cents and upwards with $1.99 and $2.99 very popular teasers.
As an aside, the crime scene has yet to see the latest twist, though – well, neither have any other genres to be straightforward about it. The Harry Potter series is now available on Kindle and Nook (thanks for the update Laura). Go to either of those sites, select HP and the Philospher’s Stone (the first in the series), be ready to pay up $7.99, and either site will then connect you to the Pottermore website platform owned, of course, by J.K. Rowling. (http://shop.pottermore.com/en_GB ). That is, Nook and Kindle are now basically distributors for Rowling, so an added step has come into the distribution chain. It would seem logical that the big crime sellers like Rankin, Martina Cole, Harlen Coban et. al might well be pondering this.
Perhaps the more interesting movement for those interested in wider access comes with the writers who are really concentrating on opening the crime scene. Foremost among these is Allan Guthrie, another of the hard-bitten Scottish school. Not only is he a writer, but he is also an agent who is focused on selling his authors via the web (http://blastedheath.com/?ptype=store ) and this is beginning to make a mark. Some of the works are very dark and will not be to all tastes, but definitely have a market as demonstrated by the sales figures clocking up.
An interesting case study here is Tony Black who is selling very good numbers of books largely via the web. He has produced very quickly several books in two series, one featuring a washed up crime reporter call Gus Dury (http://www.amazon.com/Truth-Lies-Bleeding-ebook/dp/B004LB5A7M/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1336208707&sr=1-1 ) who is so much at rock bottom as to seem irretrievable, and the other a copper called Rob Brennan who exhibits most of the genre’s foibles, failures and features (http://www.amazon.com/Truth-Lies-Bleeding-ebook/dp/B004LB5A7M/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1336208707&sr=1-1 ). Whereas someone like Black and many of those in Guthrie’s stable might have struggled earlier for an audience, now they are on e-books and the blogs and the books are selling themselves.
These are a few among those I have enjoyed on e-books lately as a result of this wider availability. Some I would have read in book form had I ever been able to buy them locally, but others I have been attracted to by the promise of the work allied with an accessible e-version price. Petros Markaris has a series set in Athens featuring Costas Haritos who is another honourable cop who does the right thing often at cost to himself and in defiance of his superiors. Deadline in Athens picks up a constant theme these days, people smuggling, and ties it to a mystery involving the murder of two journalists by someone, as it turns out, close to the Inspector. (http://www.amazon.com/Deadline-Athens-Inspector-Mysteries-ebook/dp/B0029LHGDW/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1336210605&sr=1-1 ). It is a crime and place novel more about the former than the latter, with Athens coming out little more than a series of street names, but the characterisation is good, even if the Inspector has a non-PC approach to his wife.
Jason Webster might well be on the way to great things. He has written several non-fiction books based in Spain and Or The Bulls Kill You is his first novel set in Valencia and headlining Chief Inspector Max Camara. (http://www.amazon.com/Deadline-Athens-Inspector-Mysteries-ebook/dp/B0029LHGDW/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1336210605&sr=1-1 ). It really works, swinging around the ritualised slaying of a famous bullfighter who has a secret gay life, and really brings the city alive. Webster knows the culture, knows the place and uses that well, if sometimes with a touch too much erudition.
Teresa Solana has another book that is more crime than place, but tells a good story in A Not So Perfect Crime. (http://www.amazon.com/Deadline-Athens-Inspector-Mysteries-ebook/dp/B0029LHGDW/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1336210605&sr=1-1 ). It features a couple of wide boys who, secretly, are brothers and have set up as fixers in Barcelona. They get hired by a politician to check on his wife, and that leads them a merry chase through high and low society which produces all sorts of social asides. Solana writes well and has a good handle on humour.
Ernesto Mallo has written an excellent crime novel, Needle In a Haystack, set in Beunos Aires during the time of the “disappearances” of the late 1970s. Inspector Lascano, a veteran detective still grieving the death of his wife, stumbles across a resistance group member and into a money-induced murder that alienates several people in authority. It is a great blend of crime and political menace. (http://www.amazon.com/Haystack-Inspector-Lascano-Mystery-ebook/dp/B003UESN3Y/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1336210928&sr=1-1 )
The sign of the times is captured neatly by Zirk van den Berg’s Nobody Dies (about a South African woman cop) that can be accessed through Kindle or via his e-publishing website based in Auckland, New Zealand. The book appeared in print form in 2004 to good reviews, but is now having probably a bigger second life through the e-form. (http://saybooksonline.com/about-say-books ). All of these and many others are selling strongly in e-book form, and this trend is very likely to continue. Really successful writers – and some of these are – will also do well in book form while that lasts, but for many others the new form of “self publishing” will be the new means.