As this is posted, yesterday would have been Roald Dahl’s 101st birthday. As you’ll know, Dahl was famous for his children’s books (e.g. James and the Giant Peach, Matilda, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, among many others). It’s a tribute to his talent that his children’s books are still popular several decades after they were written.
But Dahl didn’t just write children’s books. He also wrote other sorts of stories, and that versatility arguably shows just how talented a writer he was. One of the genres in which he wrote is crime fiction. In fact, he wrote a collection of short stories, Tales of the Unexpected, which includes several crime stories.
In one of them, The Landlady, we are introduced to Billy Weaver. He’s just arrived in Bath to start a new job, and is on his way to the Bell and Dragon to try to get a room. He happens to notice an inviting-looking B&B as he’s walking along; and, on impulse, goes there instead. That choice has drastic consequences for him. If you don’t know the story, you can read it for yourself right here.
Also included in this collection is Lamb to the Slaughter. In that story, police officer Patrick Maloney comes home one evening and gives his wife, Mary, some shocking news. Not very long afterwards, he is killed. Mary alerts the police, who come immediately. They’re determined to find the culprit; after all, Maloney was ‘one of them.’ The only problem is, they can’t find the murder weapon. So, they can’t connect the crime with the criminal. If the story’s new to you, or you haven’t read it lately, you can read it right here.
Dahl included other crime and crime-related stories in this collection, too, such as The Man From the South (which you may find familiar, as it was adapted for Alfred Hitchcock Presents) and The Way Up to Heaven. A year later, Dahl’s More Tales of the Unexpected was published. Again, there are some crime and crime-related stories among them.
Dahl is, of course, not the only children’s author to also write crime fiction. As you’ll know, J.K. Rowling first achieved fame and success with her novels featuring Harry Potter. Since 2013, she’s been writing a crime series featuring London PI Cormoran Strike. So far (to my knowledge), there’ve been three Cormoran Strike novels: The Cuckoo’s Calling, The Silkworm, and Career of Evil. The date of publication for the fourth, Lethal White, hasn’t been confirmed. The Strike novels are quite different to the Harry Potter series, and show Rowling/Galbraith’s versatility.
Another author who made the move from children’s books to crime fiction is Eoin Colfer. As an author of children’s books, he is famous for, among other things, the Artemis Fowl series. This 8-novel series features Artemis Fowl, who is a teenage criminal mastermind. It’s billed as a science fantasy series – what Colfer himself has called, ‘Die Hard with fairies.’ Colfer’s also written crime fiction for adults. He’s got a (so far) 2-novel series (Plugged and Screwed), featuring Irish ex-pat Daniel McEvoy. He’s a former member of the military, who now works as a bouncer at Slotz, a seedy, dirty, bar/casino in the fictitious town of Cloisters, New Jersey. The novels are suspenseful and sometimes gritty. But they also have a lot of dark wit in them. Although I don’t usually go for comparisons, these novels have been compared to the work of Elmore Leonard, so you can get an idea of both the grit and the wit. And, by the way, Leonard’s mentioned in Screwed.
Of course, it can work the other way, too. You’ll most likely be familiar with Adrian McKinty’s name from his Sean Duffy novels. Duffy is a Catholic member of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) during the worst of the Troubles. This series was actually only supposed to be a trilogy, but has been expanded to six books, the most recent of which is Police at the Station and They Don’t Look Friendly. But, did you know that he’s also written a YA trilogy? Called the Lighthouse Trilogy, it features 13-year-old Jamie O’Neill. These novels are billed as YA science fiction, and take place in Ireland, the US, and the fictional planet, Altair.
When you think of spy stories, you probably include Ian Fleming’s James Bond series among them. Bond is, of course, the dapper British agent who’s always equipped with all sorts of useful gadgets. He moves in the highest circles, and has all sorts of handy skills. And there are the women… Bond’s been brought to life on the screen many times, by a variety of actors. But Bond wasn’t Fleming’s only creation. He also wrote the children’s book Chitty Chitty Bang Bang: The Magical Car for his son. In the book, the Potts family goes on all sorts of adventures with their car that looks like a wreck at first, but can actually fly and swim. The book was adapted for film in 1968 – in part by Roald Dahl!
We don’t always think of children’s literature and crime fiction as being written by the same people. But sometimes, they are. And one such author, Roald Dahl, left an indelible impression in both genres. He is missed.
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley’s Pure Imagination.