Thursday, May 10, 2018

Learning the Lines

One of the popular intellectual exercises among folks (like me) who read more crime fiction than is probably healthy for them, is to debate the sub-genre boundaries of this sprawling literary field. What’s the definition of a thriller? Which books qualify as works of noir? How fluid are the lines between traditional mysteries and suspense yarns?

In hopes of “help[ing] guide readers to the type of book they are most likely to enjoy,” editor, critic, and New York City bookseller Otto Penzler has spent this week breaking down the most familiar categories of crime fiction in a series of posts for CrimeReads. Each of his pieces has examined a separate sub-genre in terms of its storytelling structure, its popular clichés, its history, and the writers who have been most instrumental in establishing its value—both past and present. This last Monday, Penzler looked at traditional mysteries; he followed that with studies of hard-boiled novels and thrillers. Today’s entry in the series spotlights police procedurals, with favorable mentions of fiction by Reginald Hill, Dorothy Uhnak, James McClure, Louise Penny, Georges Simenon, and others. If his introduction to these posts provides an accurate clue, then tomorrow’s installment will tackle the subject of psychological suspense novels.

Penzler’s guides aren’t likely to deter crime-fiction writers and readers bent on erudite discourse for its own sake (there’s way too much fun in that!), but they should prove useful to readers who are still getting comfortable with this genre’s broad scope.

FOLLOW-UP: OK, so I guessed wrong. Penzler’s fifth column actually deals with “the crime novel.” As he explains it, “The major element that most clearly distinguishes the crime novel from the rest of mystery fiction is that there is, in fact, no mystery. It is a depiction of criminal life, and it is told from the viewpoint of the criminal. It is not very much a ‘whodunnit’ but more of a ‘whydunnit.’”

1 comment:

Rick Robinson said...

Thanks for alerting us about these essays, I'd missed them. Very interesting.