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Top guns: Britain’s favourite crime writers

American thriller writer James Patterson is very popular with library users in Britain. Not only is he the author of Sail, the most borrowed book last year, but of 17 others on the list of 250 most borrowed books. Most of them, however, were collaborations with other authors.

That leaves the field clear for another American, Patricia Cornwell, to claim the honour of being the favourite crime writer of library users in Britain. She authored five books on the list: The Front, No 7; Book Of The Dead, 22; Scarpetta, 78; At Risk, 81; and Predator, 205.

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Books

Books most borrowed in America, Britain, Singapore

American thriller writer James Patterson is the author whose books are borrowed most often from libraries in America and Britain. Malcolm Gladwell topped the non-fiction list in America with Outliers: The Story of Success, according to Library Journal.com.

American authors dominate the list of 250 books borrowed most often in Britain in 2009.

Patterson is followed by the romantic writers Nora Roberts and Danielle Steel.

Only two of the 10 most borrowed books in Britain were by British writers: The Outcast by Sadie Jones and Friday Nights by Joanna Trollope.

Here are the top 10 lists for Britain, America and Singapore. The Singapore list is for the National Library Board's financial year 2008.

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Sex, politics and families

Cold Is The Grave by Peter Robinson
Presumed Innocent by Scott Turow

I just finished reading Cold Is The Grave by Peter Robinson and Presumed Innocent by Scott Turow. Both are whodunits though the latter is a courtroom drama as well. Robinson is English and Turow, American. Reading them reminded me how much British crime fiction has changed unlike its American cousin.

Turow writes about the same sleazy world as Raymond Chandler. Robinson’s milieu could not be more different from Agatha Christie’s.

Robinson develops his characters at length. We learn a lot about his hero, Inspector Banks — his failed marriage, his closeness to his two grown-up children, his romance with a colleague, his musical tastes and love of whisky. Other characters are not neglected either. The policewoman he has an affair with is portrayed  in detail. And so is his superior officer and old adversary, Chief Constable Riddle. The story begins in Riddle’s house with his eight-year-old son stumbling on a porn site which forces Riddle to ask Banks for a favour.

Banks, the knight in shining armour, obliges his old enemy. But he can’t prevent two tragedies, both in the same family. Cold Is The Grave is a must-read for fans of Peter Robinson and Inspector Banks. Something unexpected happens to a key character.

Turrow is more focused. The story is told in the first person by his hero, deputy prosecutor Rusty Sabich. His former lover — and colleague — has been murdered and the investigation falls on him. The story drags a bit in the early chapters as he obsesses over his former lover and broods over his unhappy marriage. But then comes the twist. He himself is charged with the murder. Out on bail, he carries on his investigation while his lawyer defends him in court.

Someone else, of course, turns out to be the murderer. But I wasn’t surprised when the killer’s identity was revealed. One can guess from the clues in the book.

Yet this book was the more satisfying of the two. Turow is more vivid in his account of politics and corruption. Robinson tackles those issues too. But they are not central to his story. It is more domestic. Both are stories about dysfunctional families and the mayhem they can cause. But Presumed Innocent is more interesting because it looks at the wider world.

The city hall politics and the corruption and infighting in the police department it exposes gives it a noirish cast. And that has been the staple — and part of the enduring appeal — of American crime fiction since Chandler.