by Alison Flood)
Only joking … Isabel Allende. Photograph: Rex/Fernando Villar
Isabel Allende, better known for magical realism, has angered the crime fiction community after admitting that Ripper, her first foray into mysteries, was written as "a joke" - and that she is "not a fan" of the genre.
"An atmospheric, fast-paced mystery involving a brilliant teenage sleuth who must unmask a serial killer in San Francisco," according to its publisher, Ripper is just out, and to mark its publication the acclaimed Chilean author spoke with NPR in the US. "The book is tongue in cheek. It's very ironic," she said, adding that "I'm not a fan of mysteries, so to prepare for this experience of writing a mystery I started reading the most successful ones in the market in 2012".
"I realised I cannot write that kind of book. It's too gruesome, too violent, too dark; there's no redemption there. And the characters are just awful. Bad people. Very entertaining, but really bad people," said Allende. "So I thought, I will take the genre, write a mystery that is faithful to the formula and to what the readers expect, but it is a joke. My sleuth will not be this handsome detective or journalist or policeman or whatever. It will be a … 16-year-old nerd"
But readers, booksellers and fellow authors were unimpressed with Allende's analysis of mystery fiction. Houston bookshop Murder by the Book had ordered 20 signed copies of Ripper – but sent them back after hearing the author's interview. Owner McKenna Jordan told her local paper the Houston Chronicle that "mystery and genre writers deal with this all the time from so-called literary authors. But for her to have gotten paid to write a mystery when she doesn't even like the genre – how would she expect mystery readers to react to that?"
"That's one of the benefits of having a small business," the bookseller told the Houston paper. "If you don't want to stock something, you don't have to."
Readers were also furious, taking issue with Allende's "snotty elitism", and advising the author to "stick to what she knows [if she] sees the genre as being beneath her". Sookie Stackhouse's bestselling creator Charlaine Harris took Allende to task on her blog for comments which "translate … [as] I'm so amazingly 'literary' that condescending to write a genre novel is incredibly funny … I considered buying it. But having devoted my professional life to genre literature, I don't think I will," wrote Harris.
In the UK, the bestselling authors Val McDermid and Mark Billingham also laid into Allende for dismissing their genre. "It's great to see the crime-writing community rising up in its own defence," said McDermid. "For years we've been the butt of ignorant prejudice from the literary genre and we've taken it on the chin, muttering in corners and up our sleeves about how misunderstood we are. But clearly we're not going to stand for it any longer. The great thing about this backlash is that it's coming from readers as well as writers – it can't just be written off as wounded amour propre. (Is that a bit too literary? Using French?)"
Billingham added that "as a crime writer I'm obviously not well inclined towards any writer who professes to 'make fun of mysteries'", but speculated if Allende was "only now describing her book as a 'joke' after seeing the universally savage reviews it's received".
"Those poor, ignorant reviewers are simply not getting her fantastic 'joke'," said Billingham. "Allende claims that she's not a fan of mysteries, which is her prerogative, but she happens to be married to a mystery writer. I'm guessing it's been an interesting Valentine's day in the Allende household."