Monday musings on Australian literature: Supporting genres, 5: Crime

When I decided to write this sub-series, the genre that nearly stopped me before I started was crime, because I knew I’d have to do it! CRIME is so-o-o big that it’s hard to know where to start … so, I’m just going to dive in, share a select number of ideas, and let the rest of you, as you always do, fill in the gaps.

Crime, as you know, is not a key genre for me, but over the years, for one reason or another, I’ve read a number of crime books, ranging from cosy crime to police procedurals, from classic crime to true crime, from rural noir to literary crime, from – well, you get the picture. In other words, for someone not drawn to crime, I’ve read and, I admit, enjoyed more than I would have thought when I started this blog. I have also written separate posts about Sisters in Crime Australia and their Stiletto awards.


Angela Savage, The dying beach

Crime, being the popular genre it is, features regularly at writers festivals around Australia. It would be rare, methinks, to attend a festival and not find at least one panel devoted to crime. I’ve written on a couple myself – a crime panel convened by Angela Savage at the 2020 Yarra Valley Writers Festival, and a true crime one at the 2019 Canberra Writers Festival.

But, there are also festivals devoted specifically to crime, including these three held or to be held in 2021:

BAD Sydney Crime Writers Festival

To be held from 2-5 December, 2021. As far as I can tell, this is an annual festival that started around 2017. It “explores what crime can tell us about human beings today and in the past”, or, what BAD describes as “”the dark side that is part of being human”. They suggest that Sydney is particularly appropriate “because it was founded by convicts and their guards” and “has been significantly affected by crime and corruption for much of its history”. On the 2017 festival page, they argue that “you cannot understand this city completely without its vital criminal subculture”. The 2021 festival will feature “some of the biggest names in crime fiction, true crime and social justice advocacy”, including Jane Harper, Michael Robotham, Garry Disher, Chris Hammer, Xanthé Mallett, as well as Melissa Lucashenko, Robert Drewe, Richard Glover, Tony Birch, Larissa Behrendt and Stan Grant. This is a face-to-face festival, but all sessions will also be Zoom-ed.

Rural Crime Writing Festival

Held as an online festival on 12 June 2021, by the New England Writers Centre. Calling it the “very first of its kind”, they hope to repeat it. Participants included Emma Viskic and Yumna Kassab. Carmel Shute of Sisters in Crime convened a panel which discussed “the rewards of literary awards”. Would love to have heard that.

Terror Australis Readers and Writers Festival: CSI: Tasmania Digital Festival

To be held as an online festival on 27 & 28 November, 2021. Described as Tasmania’s International Crime and Mystery Literary Festival. Like BAD, TARWF, which is located in the Huon Valley, offers a range of live, live-streamed and virtual events throughout the year. CSI Tasmania is their second festival, following their successful Murder She Wrote festival in 2019. It features Australian writers like Gary Disher, Sulari Gentil, Candice Fox and Anita Heiss, and international writers like Val McDiarmid and Ann Cleeves. TARWF’s founder and current director is crime writer L.J.M. Owen, and the organisation is volunteer-run.


Crime is also a genre that seems well served by awards and prizes.

  • Danger Award, offered by BAD. An annual award, established about 2018, I think, for “the best book, TV series, podcast or film about Sydney crime” (so not “just” books).
  • Davitt Awards, offered by Sisters in Crime Australia, since 2001. Prizes are offered in several categories for writing by women.
  • Ned Kelly Awards, run by the Australian Crime Writers Association and established in 1996. They offer prizes in several categories, including true crime, debut crime and YA crime.
  • Scarlet Stiletto Awards, also run by Sisters in Crime Australia, since 1994. This award is limited (devoted) to crime and mystery short stories “written by Australian women and featuring a strong female protagonist”. Clan Destine Press has now published eleven collections of winning stories.

AWW Challenge

Many of you know that I’ve been involved in the Australian Women Writers Challenge pretty much from its inception. It collects on-line reviews, mostly by bloggers and GoodReads readers, of books in all forms and genres written by Australian women. And crime, of course, is a big genre. An important aspect of the challenge is our Book Review database, which you can search via the Books Reviewed search page. Clicking this link, however, will take you immediately to a list of the reviews posted for over 950 crime books by Australian women writers. It’s quite a database now.

Finally …

If you’ve been paying attention, and I’m sure you have, you will have realised that there are many organisations in Australia devoted to supporting crime, including the Australian Crime Writers Association, Sisters in Crime Australia, BAD, and publishers like Clan Destine Press.

And, just to round it all off, this article in The Conversation provides a neat history of Australian crime – in case you are interested.

Do you read Crime? If so, would you care to share some favourites?

Previous supporting genre posts: 1. Historical fiction; 2. Short stories; 3. Biography; 4. Literary nonfiction.

43 thoughts on “Monday musings on Australian literature: Supporting genres, 5: Crime

  1. I can’t help you. I read Crime because it is often well written with interesting characters – hence Peter Temple’s appearances in the MF – and sometimes because it is fun (eg. Linda Evanovich, sadly not an Australian ) but I never read it to solve the mystery, and I don’t like action (gun fights and car chases).

  2. “If you’ve been paying attention, and I’m sure you have, you will have realised that there are many organisations in Australia devoted to supporting crime,”

    Frankly… I’m shocked, shocked, I say.

    I am drawn to crime novels. Police procedurals are my least favourite–however if the investigating detective is particularly interesting, well that’s different. (cases in point: Ross Macdonald’s Lew Archer, Charles Willeford’s Hoke Moseley, Derek Raymond etc)

    Reading about Kathy Pettingill and her family was an incredible experience. I first heard about the film Animal Kingdom from you (film based on the family for anyone who doesn’t know).
    I am interested in that sort of thing–the culture of crime. Nonfiction: So the Pettingill tribe fall into that category: The Matriarch by Adrian Tame and The Unspeakable Crimes of Dr Petoit by Thomas Maeder.

    Also how people who are NOT criminals become criminals–the why and wherefore sort of thing.
    Favourites.. have you got all day?
    So narrowing it down with just a few titles:
    ANYTHING by Charles Willeford (including the Hoke Moseley series about a Miami homicide detective)
    ANYTHING by Charles Williams. There are two Charles Williams, so buyer beware.
    ANYTHING by Jim Thompson
    Derek Raymond’s He Died with His Eyes Open.
    My cousin Rachel: Daphne du Maurier
    Kiss the Blood off my Hands: Gerald Butler
    Bedelia: Vera Caspary
    Nightmare Alley: William Lindsay Gresham
    You Play the Red and Black Comes Up: Richard Hallis
    Build My Gallows High: Geoffrey Homes
    Night and the City: Gerald Kersh
    Sudden Fear: Edna Sherry
    Strangers on a Train: Patricia Highsmith
    Black Wings Has My Angel: Elliot Chaze
    Mine Own Executioner: Nigel Balchin

    Course the biggies: James Cain, Cornell Woolrich, Raymond Chandler. Plus gotta sneak it in here: James Hadley Chase.

    I know I’ve missed some and I have not read everything on the planet. Signing off because I could go on all day. And night.

  3. For reasons I cannot begin to fathom, crime writing is far and away my favourite kind. This doesn’t preclude other writing (Heather Rose ! Jane Austen ! Rose Tremain [historical] ! and the incomparable Helen Garner !); but my non-crime writers’ output gets kind of slotted in ..
    I’ve recently come across and am really enjoying a new DI, Anna Gwynne; brought to life by a man, amazingly – men are usually better at inventing protagonists of their own gender. But no crime writer of either sex can ever replace my beloved Peter Temple and his bevy of characters, starting with Jack Irish (so appallingly badly re-interpreted by the ABC).
    Crime writing lends itself to the aural medium brilliantly, too – many a time have I willed a narrator to HURRY UP with the dénouement, when in my actual reading days I would indubitably have skipped stuff in my anxiety to reach it.
    You aren’t a fan because it doesn’t fulfil your need for words that make you THINK, ST – not just think, in fact, but ponder.

    • Another detailed reply to this post (after Guy I mean) M-R, which shows just how much this genre is loved.

      I haven’t read the Jack Irish novels. How different – or in what way – is Temple’s character to the TV one?

      You might be right about the thinking and pondering, but that doesn’t mean that crime readers don’t think and ponder. You just like to ponder different things. BUT I’m glad that now only doing audiobooks makes it harder for you to cheat and rush the end! Do you like to work out whodunit?

  4. Hi Sue, like you and Bill, I don’t read a lot of crime. I have only read 6 crime novels this year. I have heard of the awards you mentioned, but I don’t seek the winners books. So far this year I would recommend only one You Don’t Know Me by Imran Mahmood. A strange novel about a man on trial for murder who gives conflicting stories to the jury. There is a new Australian crime author Dervla McTiernan, and I have liked her novels. And I do like to read Michael Robotham’s psychological thrillers. When I was in my teens I loved Agatha Christie and Dorothy L Sayers. I also thought the Woman in White by Wilkie Collins, was brilliant.

    • Thanks Meg. I might check out Imran Mahmood for a Christmas gift. I have been thinking of reading a Dervla McTeirnan. If I were to read just one, which would you recommend?

      I have still to read Wilkie Collins. Maybe it could be a good classic for my reading group?

      I think psychological thrillers are where I part ways with crime and mystery – I’ve come to realise in recent years why I don’t like thrillers. I don’t like tension, waiting for people to do awful things to each other. I jump even when I know it’s coming!

        • Hi Sue, You don’t Own Me is a book that gets under your skin, you don’t know what to believe. I don’t like tension, so I read quickly – haha. I would recommend The Ruin, but they are all good. The Woman in White would be a great read for your reading group. We did it one year, and it was a successful long discussion. We didn’t deviate to much!

  5. Believe it or not, I’ve been writing some. Always wanted to, and am aiming for a trilogy – working on the second draft of the second manuscript. Quixotic, because at 83 I may not get to the end before I depart. I remember Bob Brissenden, the poet, and Michael’s father, wrote one or two in his retirement, because he was drawn to the form. Michael has now published two very good ones. I think one of the genre’s strengths is the evocation of place. The best ones do that brilliantly. Like Adrian McKinty’s Sean Kelly series, for one, or Natalie Conyer’s Perfect Tense. And in Schemetime, which wasn’t a crime novel but set in LA, I drew on Chandler’s prose style as an inspiration, because he was the supreme chronicler of that city. One critic I spoke to about it here had never heard of Raymond Chandler. That told me a lot. But you wouldn’t get the same response these days.

  6. As you know, Sue, I have written crime fiction and I’ve always read the genre, though less so in recent years. I love the list from Guy Savage (no relation?), many of which have been made into classic noir films. Of recent crime reads, Debra Oswald’s The Family Doctor is a stand out, very much a novel of our times, with a satisfying moral arc. I’ll also read anything by Jock Serong, Sulari Gentill and Emma Viskic.

    • Thanks Angela … love that you like Guy’s (no relation) list! Thanks for those last three recommendations… all authors I’ve been wanting to read. As for Debra Oswald, you have intrigued me! So thanks too!

  7. It struck me years ago that crime fiction was the 20th-Century (and counting) equivalent of verse for the Renaissance, i.e. the genre that everyone will try his/her hand at. In the 16th Century one had Henry VIII writing songs and Michelangelo writing sonnets. In the 20th Century one had American senators (at least William Cohen, R-ME, but a couple of others, I think), a president’s daughter (Margaret Truman Daniels), and Oxford Dons (P.D.E. James, correct?) writing mysteries. I suppose the structure that each form provides makes for the attraction: a mystery has a crime along the way and a solution at the end; a sonnet has rhymes in a particular sequence.

    The critic Hugh Kenner wrote that Ross MacDonald wrote “fables of modern identity” as detective stories; the historian Jacques Barzun was fond of detective fiction, and wrote an essay about Rex Stout, who wrote the Nero Wolfe novels. I don’t read much crime fiction these days, though at one time I read most of Raymond Chandler’s novels and a few of Stout’s and would certainly pick up a volume of MacDonald if I found it in a used bookstore.

  8. I like mainly vintage crime, but I also enjoy Ian Rankin’s Rebus series, with the setting being Edinburgh and sometimes Fife I know all the locations and I love to be able to see all the places mentioned.

  9. Is there life after crime writing?
    I don’t think of myself as a ‘natural’ crime writer, but one who took a sideways step into the genre, many years ago now. And for reasons which seem as much to do with chance as anything else.
    I think there’s something in George’s comparison with Renaissance verse. However, though I’ve written other things besides crime in the last two decades, there is nothing to match the excitement of starting a new mystery and having no idea where, or how it will end.
    Martin Cruz Smith’s trilogy beginning with Gorky Park is still a favourite, also Ruth Rendell. And the Cadfael Chronicles by Ellis Peters.

    • Oh it’s lovely to hear from a local writer who writes some crime, Dorothy – so thanks bot joining in. I love that you find it exciting to start a new mystery series – not daunting, but then, if it were daunting I guess you wouldn’t do it! I did enjoy the first of your current series and would read more but I don’t seem to have the time to get to all the books I’d like to. However, whenever I see your name, or it mentioned, I somehow immediately go to that part of the Victorian coast.

      I like too that you see something in George’s Renaissance verse analogy. Certainly, it seems that a wide range of people love to try their hand at crime.

      I was given a Cadfael Chronicles book once but it’s still in my TBR pile, I’m afraid.

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