When people hear that I write crime fiction, they often ask me 'who's your favourite crime writer?' Immediately my mind goes blank. 'Ruth Rendell? P. D. James? Ian Rankin?' they prompt, taking pity on me. Well, yes, great writers, who have beguiled many a weary hour for me, but . . . By this time, I have thought of someone, 'Andrea Camilleri . . .' I murmur. 'Donna Leon? Colin Cotterill . . .' and then it's sometimes their turn to look blank.
Of course there are plenty of others whose work I enjoy, but I have to be in the mood. With these writers I am always in the mood. I buy their books as soon as they go into paperback - sometimes before - and I confidently toss their books into my suitcase when it's time to go on holiday. Or else I save them for a time when I need a treat.
All three writers have things in common. Their novels are relatively quick reads, they are witty and playful, they have vividly realised settings, and they feature great characters. I love Camilleri's Inspector Montalbana and his long-suffering girlfriend, Livia, Leon's uxorious Inspector Brunetti, and Cotterill's Dr Siri.
Colin Cotterill is relatively new on the scene and once again he was recommended to me by Richard Reynolds. The first was THE CORONER'S LUNCH - great title - and launched the career of Dr Siri, the elderly and reluctant coroner - actually the only coroner - in 1970s Laos. Cotterill's novels are funny, full of fascinating local and historical details and, like Camilleri and Leon, he writes with heart. Cotterill won the CWA Dagger in the Library last year and it was well-deserved. He's got a good web-site, too, colincotterill.com, well worth checking out.