This Is Not A Test: Questions About Crime Novels
While I cleared all of the second-rate crime novels from the shelves that I have hung onto for sentimental reasons, I was thinking about what crime novels could or should be. Here are a few questions I have about crime fiction in general.
Crime accounts for over a third of all fiction published in the English language. The genre is deceptive because it crosses literary borders. Should we regard any book as a crime novel just because somebody dies violently in it, or does the story require an act of detection?
Crime novels began as whimsical constructs, devices for torquing tension, withholding information and springing surprises, but they slowly became encrusted by rules and then complaints that the rules were being broken. Do we still need rules in crime fiction?
At the time of Oscar Wilde’s trial, one newspaper suggested that decent men were being driven into the arms of boys because their wives were too busy being feminists and everything would go back to normal if they returned to making jam. In the 1950s youth clubs were installed on estates in a doomed attempt to switch anti-social teens to ping-pong. Do you think crime novels should reflect such times or be set non-specifically and remain escapist? Can they ever be both?
Which crime novels do you consider to have changed the game? Please don’t cite ‘The Murder of Roger Ackroyd’, which although valid has been dissected enough. Why are there so few experimental crime novels? The only one I can think of is ‘Hawthorn and Child’. Doesn’t the idea of investigating a confounding set of circumstances offer a fertile ground for experimentation?
Domestic suspense is a sub-genre that has returned to form with a series of powerful, mostly American, novels (I don’t count Paula Hawkins’ execrable, mystifying ‘Girl on a Train’). Created in the late 1940s but really flourishing in Eisenhower’s America, domestic suspense was not just the province of female authors (although they were the best) and set ground rules that have been maintained. I tried to pull a switch on the genders by using a gay man in the role of ‘housewife’ in ‘Little Boy Found’ (God, how I hate that title) because genders have switched in every other sub-genre. So what’s the best domestic suspense novel you’ve ever read?
Please don’t write on both sides of the paper at once.