Our theme this month is the British Invasion. My first thought when I heard that, was the Beatles versus Elvis. Then I remembered, this is about writing, not music. But just in case you were wondering, I was a Beatles fan.
Although I understand the concept of a British invasion, I’m not sure it relates to mysteries. Especially cozy mysteries. Like much between the UK and the US, melting pot might be a better description. The Brits contributed the cozy and the police procedural while the Americans gave the dark and gritty noir. Somewhere in the middle of the great Atlantic pond the styles of Dame Agatha and Dashiell Hammett met and mixed and the modern mystery genre was born. Not so much an invasion as a love match.
Like most mystery fans my introduction to mysteries came at the hands of Dame Agatha. Murder on the Orient Express swept me into a whole new world and I quickly devoured all that Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple had to offer. It didn’t take too long before I was seeking out other English writers. I discovered Cordelia Gray, P.D. James’s first sleuth. Poor Cordelia only had two books, I always hoped there would be more. When the author introduced Adam Dalglish I was disappointed, but I learned to love him too. Finding P.D. James set me off on a hunt for other English writers and I quickly found Reginald Hill, Ruth Randell, and Colin Dexter. Heady company for an Anglophile!
It seems I wasn’t alone in my attraction to all things mysterious and British. American writers like Martha Grimes and Elizabeth George were cutting new ground at the same time. They were writing British police procedurals despite the inherent handicap of being American. It’s long been common knowledge that the United Kingdom and the United States are two countries separated by a common language. For the most part, they manage to pull it off. It cannot be easy.
The British mystery has made inroads, but we’ve not yet been overtaken by the British style of writing. The pacing of an English mystery is different. The murder comes later. The reader has an opportunity to get to know not only the villain but the victim. The body drops but much later. The reader is invested in all of the characters, creating a more character driven than plot driven story. In an American-style mystery, the body drops in the first few pages. The reader learns of the victim secondhand and so has less of an investment in the deceased. The stories are more plot driven.
Dame Agatha and Dashiell would be proud of the way their offspring have developed. The mystery like much else since 1776 has developed into a unique Anglo-American fusion with just enough difference for each side to continue to claim it as their own.
Writers do you find you tend to write more towards the UK or the US side of the page.
Readers do you prefer the UK or the US style of mystery.