Daggers drawn as Black Leather Jackets take on the Blue Rinses

Stay away from the crime-writers' AGM tonight. It'll be absolute murder. By Jane Jakeman

The sedate surroundings of the New Cavendish Club, just behind Marble Arch in the West End of London, may soon witness a deadly conflict. The opponents are all experts in murder weapons, from the stud-nailed boot to the slim, Italian dagger.

Tonight, at their AGM, the 450-odd members of the Crime Writers Association will vote on whether their current silver-haired Chairman (the chosen term, irrespective of sex) should hand over the reins of authority. Janet Laurence is a writer of "civilised" crime stories about art and food, and a former Daily Telegraph food columnist. Her challenger is Ian Rankin, author of gritty murder fiction in tough settings. Should the vote go against her, it would symbolise a transfer of power not only from one generation to another, but from a style that has been dominant since the foundation of the CWA in 1953 to a new kind of crime-writing.

The truth is that the CWA embraces two uneasily co-existing parties, which we might for convenience's sake describe as the "Black Leather Jackets" and the "Blue Rinses". Sporadic warfare has been going on between the two factions for some years. "Really, the whole thing is septic," says one black leather-trouser-suited author, Gillian Linscott, whose suffragette detective, Nell Bray, is an unexpectedly tough cookie in petticoats. "For a small association, the CWA can be terribly quarrelsome."

The argument is not just about two types of crime-writing, but two elements of British culture. The "Blue Rinse" is the traditional detective story, usually set in a village, featuring middle-class investigators and barely noticeable violence. As a style, it rose to glory in the golden age of Agatha Christie and Dorothy L Sayers, and still has a strong following, currently showing in the work of writers such as Caroline Graham, whose recently televised Midsomer Murders featured the usual cast of vicars and spinsters-of-this-parish. In the traditional novel, the focus is on the detective - often an amateur sleuth or an unworldly policeman - rather than on the psychology of the perpetrator. The Baroness PD James is probably the most literary and respected current practitioner of the genre, but there has been a sense of critical unease for some time now that her books are out of touch with modern life.

The Black Leather faction write tough novels of the underworld and its drug culture, the world of Cracker rather than of Juliet Bravo, with lots of psychopathology and puke in the stairwell. It is reckoned to have some of the best contemporary writers, such as Nicholas Blincoe, Val McDermid and Ian Rankin. Its supporters give it a mainstream cultural identification as the British version of the French cinema's noir, a Chandleresque world in urban settings, usually run-down inner slums or bleak housing estates. Manchester is a favourite location but, recently, Black Leather has taken a distinctly Celtic turn, sometimes known uneasily as Tartan Noir. Rankin's Inspector Rebus operates in Edinburgh; prize-winning newcomer Denise Mina's Garnet Hill is set in the even tougher environment of Glasgow. There's a political take on the division, too: at the last CWA dinner, Ruth Dudley Edwards, author of several crime novels of the traditional "Caper in the Cathedral Close" type, and Spectator columnist, tried to interrupt a speech by Michael Mansfield QC, who was addressing the assembled crimesters on the seemingly inflammatory subject of human rights.

The debate has actually been coming to the boil for a couple of decades. Mike Ripley was one of the early supporters of noir. "The CWA didn't acknowledge the existence of a new wave of crime-writing," he says. "I see it as a vehicle for fiction about contemporary life -- though that may not be life as the CWA knows it!" Ripley is the crime reviewer for the Daily Telegraph, so do his readers share his taste? "Oh, yes, my readers love hard-boiled crime," he says. "In fact, their tastes in that direction are stronger than mine," which gives an interesting insight into the leisure activities of Disgusted, Tunbridge Wells.

But Ripley's objection is less to the traditional crime novel than to the failure of the Association to reward new writing. There are certainly awards, a plethora of Daggers, handed out since the CWA was founded by John Creasey in 1953: the Macallan Gold Dagger for Best Crime Novel of the Year (formerly the Crossed Red Herrings Award), the Silver Dagger, the Dagger in the Library. Most contentious is the John Creasey Memorial Dagger for the best crime novel by a first-time crime-writer. In 1995, many expected that it would go to Nicholas Blincoe for Acid Casuals, but the glittering prize was withheld from his sharp-eyed account of a transvestite Manchester underworld: some felt that the book was too violent, too full of sex, drugs and obscenities to be in keeping with the genteel traditions of the CWA. And, it was muttered darkly in crime circles, the influence of the Baroness kept him from the prize - in what seemed like a deliberate gesture, no award at all was made that year.

Does Blincoe feel bitter against the old guard? "I've got over it all now," he said cheerfully. "Anyway, I enjoy hanging out with the old ladies. I like their sartorial style - I think tweeds and twinsets are terrific. As for Janet Laurence - I'd never call her a Blue Rinse. She's a Silver Fox - gorgeous!"

But the quarrel isn't just about style; it has other resonances and, this being Britain, the leading one is class. It came to the fore in 1995 when PD James was accused by Chaz Brenchley (whose latest book, Blood Waters, is dedicated to a Portakabin in Sunderland) of middle-class bias. Brenchley, crop-haired and sporting earrings ("one in each ear - please put that in - it's very important," said the rebel), was supported by a number of young authors.

"Social and political issues were involved, which the new writers were taking hold of," comments Mike Stotter, editor of the respected crime magazine Shots.

Margaret Yorke, author of over 40 novels and a doyenne of the profession, who will be the recipient on 6 May of the coveted Cartier Diamond Dagger, in the august surroundings of the House of Lords, might seem the exemplar of the traditional crime writer. Does she ally herself with Blue Rinse?

She called the epithet "abominably sexist", pointing out that it was only applied to women. "It's insulting and derogatory," she said forcefully. As Yorke commented, many crime-writers, such as Minette Walters, are pursuing psychological depths that would have been left genteelly unexplored a couple of decades ago.

Indeed, Janet Laurence's latest book, Appetite for Death, has some pretty noir undertones, and Ian Rankin's Inspector Rebus has an unexpected affection for Mozart, so when the Silver Fox hands over the Presidency of the CWA to the Black Leather Supremo, they may not be so far apart as some like to believe.

Does Chaz Brenchley have any comments on his row with the Baroness? "I think, you know, it would be rather dishonourable to open things up again," said the Crime Tiger of the North.

Lord Peter Wimsey himself could not be more gentlemanly. Perhaps the New Carlton carpets won't need the services of Messrs Sketchley after all - but nevertheless, CWA members should probably keep a sharp look- out for the ultimate award, the Dagger in the Back.

Arts and Entertainment

Listen to his collaboration with Naughty Boy

music
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig in a scene from ‘Spectre’, released in the UK on 23 October

film
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap

film
Arts and Entertainment

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Jess Glynne is UK number 1

music

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Katie Brayben is nominated for Best Actress in a Musical for her role as Carole King in Beautiful

film
Arts and Entertainment
Israeli-born actress Gal Gadot has been cast to play Wonder Woman
film
News
Top Gear presenter James May appears to be struggling with his new-found free time
people
Arts and Entertainment
Kendrick Lamar at the Made in America Festival in Los Angeles last summer
music
Arts and Entertainment
'Marley & Me' with Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Hamm (right) and John Slattery in the final series of Mad Men
tv
Arts and Entertainment
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
art
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor