Golden Age of Detective Fiction Forum

June 25, 2008

Does Size Matter?

Curt asked: “Why are crime novels so long these days?”

Because most of them are throwbacks to the nineteenth and early twentieth style of wide-ranging psychological/realistic novels, and those were usually and almost by definition long, very long books. It’s one of the most fascinating paradoxes about *modern* crime fiction that it’s actually not *modernistic* – the genre has eschewed surrealism, structuralism, Nouveau Roman, stream of consciousness, magical realism, oulipianism and other movements that shaped literature in the last century, and basically remained stuck in the era when it was born. Which in turn raises another question: is it possible for crime fiction to be genuinely modern and accept, if not embrace, the state of the art?

Xavier

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What makes a ‘Cozy’?

Filed under: Cozies,Sub-genres — Jon @ 8:07 pm
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Since GA detective novels frequently are classified as “cozies” I’ve become interested in just what a “cozy” is supposed to be. Here’s what I found on cozy-mystery.com (by the way, I saw a link there to “The Bloody Tower”!).

Cozies: 1. solved by an amateur sleuth, preferably a woman (with a college degree)

2. takes place in village or small town

3. characters are likeable (except victim and presumably murderer)

4. no graphic violence, profanity, explicit sex

I suppose Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple books would meet almost all these criteria, though a book like Sleeping Murder has a rather unpleasant subject buried under the genteel tone, when you think about it. But whether or not GA mysteries are “cozy” by definition, they offer a contrast to many crime novels today with #4.

How much of the appeal of GAD novels is found in #4 and that related nostalgia for past times, how much in the pure puzzle format itself, which can, presumably, flower as well in coarser environments? We hear a lot of criticism (often justified) of the GA genre for its retrogade values, but isn’t there some appeal there too for many readers, precisely in that traditionalism, or some aspects of it, at least? Even something that might have not been seen as “cozy” back then therefore might seem to be such in some ways to us today.

I’ve been looking at Reginald Hill lately and am trying to think how to place him in relation to the Golden Age. James and Rendell sometimes get called cozy today (much to their chagrin, I would imagine). Hill definitely is less genteel. Aspects of Dalziel rather remind me of Porter’s Dover, though obviously the former has the keener brain. “Deadheads,” from the early 80s, has a large share of humor, but has moments of serious reflection as well. The focus is on a puzzle, which seems to involve multiple murder in a rather “gamey” GA fashion. Sexual banter and racial and sexual inclusion (Indian and gay cops, feminist cop wife) are not traditional, but, on the other hand, Hill seems to have greatly expanded these elements in later books (just concerning the “f-word,” it seems to occur in its variations many times in later Hill books, where in Deadheads the word has not yet made its appearance in any form). In this Hill from the early 80s, at least, I actually don’t feel desperately removed from the world of the Golden age puzzle novel (which encomapssed the police procedural, at least with Henry Wade).

The Catalogue of Crime did little with Hill, evidently having been sufficiently put off by two novels, Child’s Play and Ruling Passion. On the other hand, Keating picked A Pinch of Snuff (about snuff films? — very uncosy!) as one of 100 best mysteries.

Curt

June 2, 2008

Favourite GAD film?

Filed under: Films,SS Van Dine — Jon @ 9:14 pm
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It would interest me if other GADers would vote on their favorite mystery films, much as we recently did regarding members’ favorite “Father Brown” stories.

Let me start (if anyone’s interested in such a thread), by suggesting a film even older than “The Kennel Murder Case,” and that’s Fritz Lang’s 1931 classic, “M;” although I admit that it may not fit the criteria for a pure detective story. More recent films I enjoyed would be the 1974 version of “Murder on the Orient Express,” “The Usual Suspects” (1995), and “Murder by Decree” (1979). In the category of guilty pleasures, I’d even include “Malice” (1993).

Moreover, just to open myself to ridicule, I’ll also suggest a completely off-the-wall selection: A 37-episode(20-30 minutes per episode) anime (Japanese animation) series, “Death Note.” The synopsis of this series is bizarre and unique: a Japanese student finds a mystical book that lets him write the name of a person in that book, and as soon as he does, that person dies. This power quickly goes to his head, and to battle this brilliant megalomaniac, Japanese law enforcement hires an equally brilliant but enigmatic detective known only as “L.” The series is comprised of the extraordinarily well-written cat-and-mouse game between these two individuals. I dare you to rent the first DVD of this series–which contains the first four episodes–and not be hooked. But don’t confuse it with live-version movie, which–although I haven’t seen it — can’t be nearly as intricate; which is the chief allure of this series. Unfortunately, only the first 5 discs have been released in English, so I have no idea how this series will end. The full series will be 10 discs, released one disc at a time. The last disk will be released in spring 2009.

In any event, none of these films are necessarily my favorites — no doubt they’ll occur to me as soon as I post this — but they’re some that I’ve definitely enjoyed. I look forward to other opinions, if anyone cares to share.

Hal

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