Thursday, March 31, 2011

A Darker Domain by Val McDermid

Here’s a useful new term: Tartan Noir. It describes a form of Scottish crime fiction characterized by troubled protagonists and plots that deal with questions of redemption. It turns out there’s also Scandinavian Noir (troubled protagonists and changing society; authors include Henning Mankell, Karin Fossum and Arnaldur Indridison), and Mediterranean Noir (troubled protagonists and governmental corruption; authors include Andrea Camilleri and Michael Dibdin). Most of the crime novels I’ve read in the last few years fall into one of these genres, it turns out, including A Darker Domain.

I liked this one a lot. It’s a standard police procedural with POVs from several different characters. I liked the two female protagonists (a cop and a journalist, both investigating the same crime). So many of these “noir-ish” books have a dearth of female characters. McDermid’s two female leads are not as tortured as some of their male counterparts (Kurt Wallander's depression, and Erlendur’s troubled family come to mind) but they still have their demons. McDermid’s writing is excellent and her plotting is complicated but accessible. I also liked the relative lack of blood and gore, though I hear some of her other titles feature more violence.

Hey, what about Stalin’s Ghost, by Martin Cruz Smith? Arkady Renko is certainly a detective with issues, and all those books dwell on corruption and moral ambiguity in both the old and the new Russia. But a quick Google search for “Russian Noir” yields only links to articles about Russian photographers, film makers, and Pinot Noir from California’s Russian River Valley; no one has yet used the term to refer to this type of fiction. Folks, you heard it here first!

(Book 9, 2011)

2 comments:

Ms. Wis./Each Little World said...

Have read a few of Val's books but then just got bogged down by the darkness and violence. I think one of her tortured characters starred in a BBC crime series but the names escape me.

herschelian said...

It was James Ellroy who first coined the phrase 'Tartan Noir', and there is certainly a lot of it. Apart from Val McDermid there is the big daddy of Scottish crime writing, Ian Rankin - and if you have never read his Inspector Rebus novels you are in for a real treat, then there is Quintin Jardine, Christopher Brookmyre, Louise Welsh and Stuart McBride - and that's just for starters - Denise Mina another great tartan noirist said 'If you throw a brick in Sauchiehall Street (Glasgow) you'll hit someone writing a crime novel'!
Maybe its the lack of sunshine for months on end that make the Scots and the Scandinavians so keen on crime writing.

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