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Telling truths: crime writers come clean

Can a city or a place be a character in a book? Do the seedy streets of Melbourne, the flashy sand and sun of the Gold Coast, the sparkling Sydney Harbour dictate where crime writers set their stories? And why has no one, except the Godfather of Crime, Peter Corris, written a crime fiction novel set in Wollongong?

These were some of the questions discussed amongst leading crime writers at Telling Truths, a crime fiction and national allegory conference held at UOW last week.

Well-known Australian writers Shane Maloney, Malla Nunn, Peter Robb and Leigh Redhead dished the dirt and got to the bare bones of the crime fiction genre during a series of panel discussions.

Topics covered at the event ranged from the significance of place in Australian and international crime writing (with a swing through Scandinavian crime fiction and on into French translations of classic Australian crime fiction), to a critiquing of extreme weather in crime fiction, the role of truth in crime fiction and true crime, and a discussion as to whether crime fiction is the new Bible of the twenty-first century.

Professor Sue Turnbull, who co-convened the conference alongside Professor Catherine Cole (a crime fiction writer herself) and Professor Ian Buchannan (a specialist in critical theory), said that crime fiction gained the attention of the literary world when Tom Robb Smith’s Child 44 was long-listed for the Man Booker Prize in 2008.

“By the time Peter Temple’s Truth won the Miles Franklin Literary Award in 2010,the gloves were definitely off,” she said.

“Temple’s win challenged the qualitative distinction between genre fiction and so-called literary fiction and suggested that crime is every bit the equal (in terms of style and substance) of less generically bound books.”

“Crime fiction doesn’t dominate airport and train station bookstores because it provides light relief from the tedium of waiting, it dominates because it is the essential intellectual foodstuff we seek when enforced inactivity allows us a rare moment of contemplation,” Professor Turnbull said.

The two-day conference attracted genre heavyweights including Leigh Redhead,Shane Maloney,Malla Nunn and Peter Robb as well as Professor of Comparative Literature at Duke University Frederick Jameson.

Leigh Redhead, who spoke on a panel exploring feminism in the genre, made her entrance to the crime fiction scene in 2004, introducing PI Simone Kirsch to readers in her first novel, Peepshow. Simone Kirsch has since appeared in Rubdown, Cherry Pie and Thrill City, the fourth book in the series published in 2010.

Shane Maloney is a favourite of crime readers. The author is the creator of the popular Murray Whelan novels: Stiff, The Brush-Off, Nice Try, The Big Ask, Something Fishy and Sucked In. Maloney was presented with the Crime Writers’ Association of Australia Lifetime Achievement Award in 2009.

Malla Nunn’s first novel, A Beautiful Place to Die, was published internationally in 2009 and won the Sisters in Crime Davitt Award for Best Adult Crime Novel by an Australian female author. It was also shortlisted in the prestigious US Edgar Awards for Best Novel. Nunn’s Let the Dead Lie was highly commended in the Ellis Peters Historical Crime Awards.

Professor Fredric Jameson, who gave the conference’s keynote address, is the William A. Lane, Junior Professor of Comparative Literature at Duke University. He is the author of Postmodernism, or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capital and The Political Unconscious: Narrative as a Socially Symbolic Act.

Peter Robb, who also gave a keynote address at the event, is the author of the acclaimed bestseller Midnight in Sicily, which won the 1997 Victorian Premier's Literary Prize for non-fiction and was named a New York Times Book Review Notable Book of the Year. Robb's biography of Caravaggio, M won the 1999 National Biography Award (UK) and his novel, A Death in Brazil, won The 2004 Age Non-Fiction Book of the Year and the 2004 Victorian Premier's Award for Non-fiction.

Last reviewed: 11 December, 2012

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