A Week in Books

Are male crime buffs heartless freaks?
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The Independent Culture

Crime Scene 2000, at the National Film Theatre last weekend, was a killer-fest for film and book fans, concentrating heavily on noir in both media. The angst-ridden atmosphere was leavened with lengthy discussions of Buffy the Vampire-Slayer, latest crime-writers' icon. "I adore Buffy", said Chaz Brenchley, writer of gritty psychological thrillers, and Val McDermid, trawler of dark pathological waters, came out as a Buffy-buff.

Crime Scene 2000, at the National Film Theatre last weekend, was a killer-fest for film and book fans, concentrating heavily on noir in both media. The angst-ridden atmosphere was leavened with lengthy discussions of Buffy the Vampire-Slayer, latest crime-writers' icon. "I adore Buffy", said Chaz Brenchley, writer of gritty psychological thrillers, and Val McDermid, trawler of dark pathological waters, came out as a Buffy-buff.

The interplay between written and visual worlds also featured in a discussion between Minette Walters and Reg Gadney, who adapted her book, The Sculptress, for television. Walters resisted a lucrative offer from Hollywood. When she asked who would play the role of the overweight suspect, the studio response was, "Oh, we'll just get some fat actress". The BBC, understanding this was the crucial casting, offered Pauline Quirke - and got the contract.

The interplay between crime fiction and the real world, however, was less easy to handle. After a week that saw a massive search for a missing child, it seemed in poor taste for organisers to hand out free copies of Denis Lehane's, Gone, Baby, Gone - about the disappearance of a little girl. Crime-writing addicts sometimes appear de-sensitised to normal standards, though Lehane, who has been involved in social work, says he was drawn to such bleak subject by a concern for children.

The real-life event was an unhappy coincidence, but it highlighted the dangers of exploitation. The further we get from the Golden Age of Christie and the more "realistic" crime-fiction becomes, the more it's likely to feed off real tragedy. Colin Dexter, on fine form talking to Mike Ripley, had anticipated details of an actual murder. In a plot created for a Morse episode, a student was killed by her boyfriend and her body hidden under floorboards. The details were so close to those in the tragic murder of an Oxford student, shortly afterwards, that the entire story was scrapped.

Lehane laughed as he mentioned an incident in Miami, where a man cut off his girlfriend's head and ran through the streets with it. He seemed non-plussed that the audience wasn't joining in the merriment. It may be time to say bluntly that the revolution from Marple to mass-murder has gone too far. And there seems a massive cult of male-dominated thuggery at the moment - an impression which this "Crime Festival" did nothing to allay, relegating less violent aspects of the genre (such as a panel of women authors) to fringe locations.

It was one of these events that provided the most authentic chill on offer. Manda Scott, whose Hen's Teeth was nominated for the Orange prize, was probably the only writer present who had killed anything larger than a fly. She's a vet, and described to a hushed audience the reality of having to shoot a horse: the ricochets, the horror when something goes wrong, how she has to go away and vomit. Far more effective as a serious account of sudden death than any of the macho stuff.

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