Take pity on the struggling, middle-aged crime writer. In the case of David Slavitt, his sales are nothing to shout about, younger rivals are coming up with ever more grisly plots, and his career-focused, academic wife doesn’t really think that working from home is a full-time job. And she might be having an affair. As a confessional account of the life of a crime writer, this novel is indispensable. But our fictional, rather ineffectual author doesn’t seem quite ready to kill off his wife’s academic colleagues who sneer at the detective novel; the story’s crime element is rather more subtle and depends on the blurring of fiction and reality as Slavitt gets further into his latest book.
As the police procedural he’s writing takes shape – My Criminal World’s chapters alternate between Slavitt’s humdrum life and his grisly book – he keeps spying a shadowy figure on the street and begins to believe the life he’s created with his wife and young children in suburban Norfolk is under threat. Perhaps he has a love rival ready to oust him, or maybe the danger is something that his subconscious has invented as some kind of psychological response to the travails of the mid-list author.
There are plenty of neat in-jokes in My Criminal World, including the unaccountable popularity of Slavitt in Latvia, where Sutton has also enjoyed success. He’s sharp, too, when it comes to lonely, obsessive fans, unglamorous award ceremonies and bullying agents. It’s a clever, captivating novel that will make you feel a little more sympathy towards the nation’s neglected crime writers.