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About this book


Since its appearance nearly two centuries ago, crime fiction has gripped readers' imaginations around the world. Detectives have varied enormously: from the nineteenth-century policemen (and a few women), through stars like Sherlock Holmes and Miss Marple, to newly self-aware voices of the present - feminist, African American, lesbian, gay, postcolonial and postmodern.

Stephen Knight's fascinating book is a comprehensive analytic survey of crime fiction from its origins in the nineteenth century to the present day. Knight explains how and why the various forms of the genre have evolved, explores a range of authors and movements, and argues that the genre as a whole has three parts – the early development of Detection, the growing emphasis on Death, and the modern celebration of Diversity.

The expanded second edition has been thoroughly updated in the light of recent research and new developments, such as ethnic crime fiction, the rise of thrillers in the serial-killer and urban collapse modes, and feel-good 'cozies'. It also explores a number of fictional works which have been published in the last few years and features a helpful glossary. With full references, and written in a highly engaging style, this remains the essential short guide for readers of crime fiction everywhere!

Table of Contents

Detection

Frontmatter

1. Beginning Detection

Abstract
Early in the new millennium a summer’s holiday reading might include detectives of very diverse kinds: a neurotic Edinburgh detective inspector, a feisty native Alaskan tour-guide-cum-detective, a British black investigative journalist, a postmodern and lesbian translator-investigator in modern Barcelona, a damaged male excavating racial crime and confusion in south-east Australia. Places and peoples of the modern world are richly represented in crime fiction through the focal figure who detects the crime, and these modern authors — Ian Rankin, Dana Stabenow, Mike Phillips, Barbara Wilson and Peter Temple — will all be discussed in Part III as a component of modern diversity.
Stephen Knight

2. Developing Detection

Abstract
When the ‘New Police’, essentially the modern English police force, were formed in London in 1829, soon to be paralleled in American cities, much stress was laid on the fact that they were to be ‘preventive’: they were not to be undercover, plain-clothes detectives — or spies, as popular opinion would have it. As Kayman explains (1992: 61–80), the New Police were to be highly visible — especially with their tall helmets and quasi-military uniforms: the idea was that they would walk about the city and act as visible indicators of the power of the state, a constant threat to wrongdoers that they would be apprehended and punished. A reform project as they were, and a public body of skilled men as they were meant to be, they were nevertheless in a major way a continuation of sovereign power — now delegated through commissioners and inspectors, but for all that a living visible arm of the national law.
Stephen Knight

Death

Frontmatter

3. After Sherlock Holmes

Abstract
Sherlock Holmes represented the full development of the detective, but Doyle’s work by no means established that other major stage in crime fiction, the insistence on death as the major crime. The two first novellas, A Study in Scarlet (1887) and The Sign of Four (1890), did involve gruesome murders, but many of the short stories focused on crimes against property or frauds of some kind. As Doyle wrote on, and squeezed his imagination for material, the stories became at times more blood-curdling, but his third novella, The Hound of the Baskervilles (1902), did not include a murder — a malice-induced heart attack and a mistaken dog-mauling were as far as the villainy actually went. Other short stories of the period also usually deal with theft and fraud, but it is noticeable that the novels of the later nineteenth century, from Lady Audley’s Secret (1862) on, often deal with murder. It may be that the novel’s extended plot needed a more serious crime than jewel theft, and mysterious murder could allow the involvement of more characters and so fill more space.
Stephen Knight

4. Forming the Clue-puzzle

Abstract
As the novel became a dominant form in crime fiction around the turn of the century and as women increasingly became recognised as both authors and readers, two things occurred: death became the threat which the fiction would dissipate and writers found ways of involving readers in the operations of the story. Neither Gaboriau nor Green consistently laid out clues for the reader to follow in any organised way, nor did they assemble a wide range of possible suspects to entice and bemuse the reader’s speculations. There developed, though, an increasing desire to amaze the reader: the two best-known crime novels of the turn of the century both end with startlingly unpredictable revelations. In The Big Bow Mystery (1892) Israel Zangwill, a radical journalist and influential Zionist, ends a locked-room murder mystery with the startling and barely credible revelation that the detective committed the murder after breaking into the room. This may now seem parodic, but it was written for a popular newspaper where such melodrama could seem normal, and Priestman has seen a left-wing political thrust to the novel: ‘in being hoodwinked into looking the wrong way by the detective cult, the public are overlooking the only real source of social solutions’ (1998: 18).
Stephen Knight

5. American Versions

Abstract
In the nineteenth century, as Part I has shown, American writers both adapted European patterns to their own circumstances, as with Charles Brockden Brown and Anna Katharine Green, and also developed patterns based on features of their own culture, like the wealth of private-detective fiction from Jem Brampton to Nick Carter. Poe is in both camps, seeming somehow based in both Paris and New York at the same time. Largely unnoticed as it has been, there was richness and variety about the kinds of American crime fiction in the nineteenth century that survived into the twentieth century: writers like Wells and Rinehart were substantially innovative and America-based, while the New York clue-puzzlers were effective adaptors of a European model. The position is just as complex with those writers who shaped what has become an enduring image of American fiction, and indeed the American consciousness. The creators of private-eye fiction combine tradition and innovation much as Poe did before them — and with his world-wide impact.
Stephen Knight

Diversity

Frontmatter

6. Continuity and Diversity

Abstract
The major patterns of British crime fiction continued after the Second World War as, for decades, Christie, Marsh, Wentworth and Mitchell produced on average a book a year and prewar newcomers like Cecil Hare and ‘Michael Innes’ (J. I. M. Stewart) maintained their recondite mysteries with legal and literary treatments respectively. There was also change. Sayers wrote no more crime fiction, apart from her unfinished mystery Thrones, Dominations (1998, completed by Jill Paton Walsh). Allingham was mostly sombre, as in the moody London thriller The Tiger in the Smoke (1952). Tey varied the classic form in the crime novel Brat Farrar (1949) and a historical mystery The Daughter of Time (1951). Carr produced only four Gideon Fell puzzles after 1950, focusing more on historical mysteries, though from 1944, in The Case of the Gilded Fly, his referential puzzle style was recreated by ‘Edmund Crispin’ (Bruce Montgomery). Michael Gilbert, another newcomer, also had a light touch — Symons calls him ‘an entertainer’ (1992: 233) — but most in this period struck a darker tone, like ‘Anthony Gilbert’ (in fact Lucy Malleson), who, having started with classic clue-puzzles as early as 1925, developed ‘a rather shocking addition of realism’ with her exploration of ‘woman’s powerlessness’ (Coward and Semple, 1989: 47), as in And Death Came Too (1956).
Stephen Knight

7. Diversifying Gender

Abstract
Before the 1920s the few women detectives remained ladylike while solving crimes, and even when consciously independent — as in Wentworth, Christie and Mitchell, and to an extent Sayers, Eberhart and the Nancy Drew authors — they still operated within a masculine order. Historians like Jessica Mann (1981) and Patricia Craig and Mary Cadogan (1981) describe an increasing number of women sleuths in the decades after the Second World War, but they went no further in terms of gender critique than the forceful but still contained presence of Mitchell’s Bradley. The first woman detective who substantially interrogated the situation was herself no revolutionary, bearing the less than assertive name Cordelia Gray as well as P. D. James’s doubt-ridden title An Unsuitable Job for a Woman (1972).
Stephen Knight

8. Diversifying Race and Ethnicity

Abstract
Crime writers had from the nineteenth century explored detection across the borders of gender and class, but to represent the detective as anything but white was most unusual — in The Moonstone Ezra Jennings is a racial hybrid who does not survive, while both Fergus Hume’s Hagar of the Pawnshop, a gypsy and ‘Eastern beauty’ (1898: 9), and Earl Derr Biggers’s Charlie Chan were non-black exotics confirming the normality of detective whiteness. There were some early black detectives in African–American culture: Pauline Hopkins’s Hagar’s Daughter and The Black Sleuth by the slave-born writer and historian John Edward Bruce, which includes scenes set in Africa, appeared in periodicals for black readers as early as 1901–2 and 1907–9 respectively. As Stephen Soitos comments, they ‘used the formulas of detective fiction to contrast this Afrocentric worldview with a racist Euro-American hegemony’ (1996: 221). Less progressive were comic and basically belittling stories by the white southerner Octavius Roy Cohen, serialised in the Saturday Evening Post in the 1920s and 1903s and collected as Florian Slappey Goes Abroad (1928). A real intervention was The Conjure-Man Dies (1932) by the Harlem renaissance writer Rudolph Fisher. This is a police clue-puzzle in ‘a completely black environment with an all-black cast of characters’ (Soitos, 1996: 93), including four detectives; and as Gosselin comments Fisher ‘infuses the detective formula with his concerns as a black American modernist writer’ (1999: 326).
Stephen Knight

9. Diversity: Postmodernity, Body, City

Abstract
Postmodern fiction, including crime fiction, is sometimes thought to be without coherence or identifiable meaning — Symons judged Paul Auster’s City of Glass (1985) ‘a clever, sterile book’ (1992: 332). But postmodernism rejects concepts of consistency and subjective identity as based on constraining systems, whether belonging to classical realist fiction or to modernism. In postmodern fiction coincidence, overlapping accounts and indeterminacy arise from plot motifs, while parody, irony and inconsequence are technical tools to dislodge the classic novel’s faith in a single subject, operating in ordered time and with a definite, moralising purpose. Postmodern crime fiction has special importance because major early postmodernists employed the sub-genre to establish positions against rationality and humanism. As argued first by Michael Holquist (1971), and eleborated by Tani (1984) and Merivale and Sweeney (1999), writers like Borges, Butor and Eco showed how crime fiction can, by being less determinate in its puzzles and less simply resolved in its processes and outcomes, become a medium to question certainties about the self, the mind and the ambient world.
Stephen Knight
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