Jump to content
Nathaniel

Mysteries and Detective Stories

Recommended Posts

Murderer's Row of crime fiction coming over the next few weeks:

 

Sept 2: Tana French, Lee Child, Thomas H. Cook, Dennis Lehane, Craig McDonald

September 9: James Ellroy, Reed Farrel Coleman (continuing Parker's Stone series, which I never liked but I'll read anything from RFC)

September 23: Walter Mosley

October 2: T. Jefferson Parker

 

Somewhere in the mix before the end of the year: Denis Johnson, Michael Connelly

 

I like all of the above to different degrees and for different reasons, but will devour anything they release no questions asked.  One the non-crime front, will need to mix in Marilynne Robinson, Martin Amis and Richard Ford along the way.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
NBooth   

LARB: Spinning Wheels: Thought and Motion in Raymond Chandler’s Fiction by Sand Avidar-Walzer

This distinctive internal capacity of the classic detective has as its external correlate a characteristic removal from society, its institutions, and its quotidian concerns. Neither Sherlock Holmes nor Poe’s Dupin is a professional law enforcement official; they are men of leisure with exceptional skills, who on occasion loan out these skills to the police, and who conveniently have a friend on hand to document their adventures. The classic detective is a man whose superiority sets him apart from the world, whose lofty intellectual position allows him to see the world more clearly. He is famous for his ability to locate tiny clues, traces, shreds of evidence, and to piece from these fragments a chain of events. Nominally observing the same material world, the detective’s eyes see behind it a tightly bound web of causality invisible to more limited minds. Like the nefarious criminal mastermind who is his dark twin, the classic detective is removed from mainstream society by virtue of his cerebral capacities. They distinguish him; they justify a genteel bohemianism; most importantly, they are a part of him, internal to him, a personal quality like height or hair color. The classic detective is a genius hovering above society, the classic criminal mastermind a villain lurking below it, and linking them is the unbreakable thread of deductive reasoning. Society, in this context, is merely an incidental maze through which the thread of causality unspools. That’s why Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot are able to solve crimes with ease wherever they go, and why they can go places to solve crimes; the classic detective, often a man of leisure, spent much of his time traveling and solving incidental mysteries along the way. Holmes even solves crimes that happen in other cities just by reading the newspaper.

 

[snip]

 

Where the classic detective’s abilities are internal and somewhat divorced from his context, Marlowe’s crime-solving capacities are nothing but context, nothing but an attitude and a capacity to navigate the exigencies of a specific milieu, a product not of an internal capacity but of external relations.

 

--All of which is pretty standard, and all of which I disagree with to a point. The classical detective isn't divorced from context; the classical detective (per Žižek) is context; he [or, less frequently, she] generates the context in which clues "make sense."

 

This isn't quite right, either:

The classic detective novel’s basic narrative approach is analytic: it shows us a nominally unified and coherently functioning world in which something has gone wrong; the detective’s job, in this context, is to return this deductively airtight world to its rightful balance. The classic detective story tracks the restoration of social order. The setting doesn’t really matter. Society in the classic detective story is not a specific place in a specific part of the world so much as the idea of a neatly functioning, self-enclosed social machine, which the detective can correctly diagnose and return to its normal operations. Analytic, deductive, the detective seamlessly explains this entire world in terms of an internally consistent chain of causal relations.

 

I mean, it's right in that reason is seen as being detachable etc etc etc, but the detective story--for the most part (well, until the Christie-infused fantasies of village murder came into vogue)--was pretty much an urban genre. There's a reason why Chesterton said that it was the romance of the city; only when you have a large heterogeneous mass of people jostling around can detective fiction, properly considered, emerge (moving from the forests of Cooper to the Paris of Poe's Dupin--a dream-world, but an urban one).

 

This argument also leaves out the fact that much of the pleasure of the classical detective story isn't the restoration of order, but its upending. The bizarre, convoluted plots are not a statement about how reality is but a kind of radical play with the very nature of reality and rationality. Only an insane world could produce The Arabian Nights Murder or The Chinese Orange Mystery. Seen this way, the detective's function isn't so much as to restore order to a coherent world as it is to bring disorder (the madcap world of the detective story wouldn't exist if the detective didn't call it into being--see The Sign of Four). 

 

This is good, though:

 

Farewell, My Lovely is not a continuous, chronological narrative, but a set of fragmentary, discrete events with their own temporality and their own logic. In its episodic nature, the noir detective story, like so much midcentury American culture, bears the distinct mark of the dime novel and the pulp serial, each installment beginning with the conclusion of a previous adventure before segueing to a new one. [...] If the continuous narrative offers the advantage of a stable narrative position even as the detective weaves in and out of the diegesis, the episodic first-person narrative instead demands a plausible mechanism both for breaking apart the segments and for moving the reader from one to the next. What we find in Farewell, My Lovely are two basic kinds of segues [....]
Edited by NBooth

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I posted earlier on Facebook but will add here that I'm thoroughly enjoying the posthumous nonfiction collection of Donald Westlake's writings, The Getaway Car, which includes an overview of the crime-fiction genre laying out the different major (and some minor) key figures, and how their work contributed the genre's evolution. I can't recall just this second whether the piece is a transcription of a speech/presentation (the collection has at least one of those) or the intro to a collection of mystery/detective stories (the collection has several of those, and that option seems more likely), but it's something I'm sure I'll return to whenever I need to get my genre ducks in a row. 

 

I'm only halfway through The Getaway Car, but I can't recommend it more highly. Here's hoping the second half isn't a letdown.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

NBooth, this seems like a book written for you: The Decagon House Murders.

 

After reading this review yesterday, I was pleased to see that it is available in the Kindle Lending Library, so downloaded it last night.  So far, I've only read the introduction by Soji Shimada, author of Tokyo Zodiac Murders, which praises the genre of puzzle mystery books. I enjoyed it because I have spent so much time reading criticism that argues the exact opposite point.

 

 

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
NBooth   

 

NBooth, this seems like a book written for you: The Decagon House Murders.

 

After reading this review yesterday, I was pleased to see that it is available in the Kindle Lending Library, so downloaded it last night.  So far, I've only read the introduction by Soji Shimada, author of Tokyo Zodiac Murders, which praises the genre of puzzle mystery books. I enjoyed it because I have spent so much time reading criticism that argues the exact opposite point.

 

Oh wow. Adding to my list.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
NBooth   

The AtlanticWomen Are Writing the Best Crime Novels

These days, just about all the exciting work in the murder-for-entertainment business descends not from Arthur Conan Doyle or Hammett but from Highsmith, who has had many more daughters than sons. A number of years ago—well before Gone Girl—I realized that most of the new crime fiction I was enjoying had been written by women. The guys had been all but run off the field by a bunch of very crafty girls, coming at them from everywhere: America (Megan Abbott, Alison Gaylin, Laura Lippman), England (Alex Marwood, Paula Hawkins, Sophie Hannah), Scotland (Val McDermid, Denise Mina), Ireland (Tana French), Norway (Karin Fossum), Japan (Natsuo Kirino).

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I know I have expressed reservations about Arturo Perez-Reverte in the past, but I've come to admire him (especially The Flanders Panel, which is a fine postmodern mystery novel), and I'm greatly looking forward to reading What We Become.

I'm in the midst of Queen of the South right now. It's excellent.

Edited by Ryan H.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

×