Which writers do the best job of critiquing society within their crime fiction?

Last night I wrote a flash piece that was pretty didactic. Hard to submerge my point artfully in a 700 word piece. But looking at the crime fiction novel, which writers do the best job here? Which writers critique society most effecitvely from the bloody pulpit of a crime novel?

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Rankin, definitely. I would also agree with Patrick on Bruen, though not just American Skin. I think the Jack Taylor books touch on a lot of things about the Irish, Jack's relationship with his mother just being one of those things, but certainly the perspective on religion within society being another.
Pelecanos and Mosley.
All of the above, plus Laura Lippman.
If I tell you you're wrong and why you're wrong is that preaching? Okay, I am joking there, this is just my 2 cents.

I think it's like all things - what is too much for one is just right for another, and for someone who's obtuse they might miss it completely. I think what Steve Torres says below, about Justice and how it's portrayed, is fairly true. There aren't many police procedurals (for example) that don't touch on bureaucracy and how the politicals get in the way of actually solving the crimes in some cases.

I would rather be preached at to some degree on these truths than to read an utterly pointless book that doesn't matter, that's about nothing. I don't mean it has to all be works of great social commentary, enlightening the masses...but have a bloody point. I think Mark Billingham did a great thing with Lazy Bones, for example, because he tackled a victim that even his protagonist didn't particularly care about, and a lot of us could understand that. It addressed the loathing we have for sex offenders, it makes us ask uncomfortable questions, about what we might be willing to turn a blind eye to or at least not get as worked up about.

It makes you think. And the best authors always do that. I do love Bruen because he can do it in such stealthy ways. I read HACKMAN BLUES and thought the bugger got what he deserved, which (of course) is like putting a mirror in front of me and showing my vindictive streak...
I agree. Too many books that I've picked up lately are about Pure Evil as if evil's pure - no human DNA mixed in. Which makes it far easier to have fun splattering blood on the walls.

Sara Paretsky can get on my nerves, though. She has great concepts and tackles interesting issues, but sometimes the bad guys get such dumb lines - all so V.I. can make an impassioned, valiant speech. Bad guys are often dumb, but they aren't so obliging about letting you explain how wrong they are.

I don't need the explication - just give me the story and I'll supply the indignation on my own, thanks.
I'm sure that scares some people. For the life of me I can't see what the fuss was about. Pops got what he deserved.

I guess the question is, is it always preaching to the converted? We may not always hold the same opinions on things. Definitely not legal but I've got an appreciation for Milne taking the law into his own hands, for example. When I read the first book, though, I felt horribly guilty for that.

And what about what Laura Lippman does with the standalones, regarding 'replacement babies' and what parents do to try to get the best for their kids and how that can have horrific consequences? Something to make parents think.
Well, I think most crime novels, but especially hardboiled and noir, do a job of revealing that Justice with a capital J is hard to come by and that Government and bureacracy doesn't make it easier. Even police procedurals which should reinforce the idea that the police are enough to keep order in society usually don't do this. Even there, the police will struggle to get the job done (there isn't a story if they breeze through to the conclusion). In fact, a lot of police procedurals have officers figuring out the crime while on the verge of suspension or while avoiding the boss who is going to ask for their badge. This is how Justice works. Or fails to.

That said, there's Jose LaTour's OUTCAST for a commentary on the troubles of Cuba. Manuel Ramos' series shows great empathy with the poor (as well as some of the smoothest writing you'll find).
Minette Walters did this well in THE DEVIL'S FEATHER. It unpacked how unhinging it is to be assaulted and how fear makes us prisoners - all in a way that gave me insights into the terroristic threats used on the general population in the rhetoric of the "war on terror." But she does it sideways, without preaching.

I also though John le Carre's ABSOLUTE FRIENDS was sputtering with bottled up rage. There's an amazing moment toward the end when the company behind a political atrocity makes money every time a misleading film clip of it plays on cable news because they own the rights. Cue the bleak laughter.
I always find it easier to take if it's the character doing the "preaching" rather than the writer. Ian Rankin does a good job of this. It only gets to me when stuff jumps off the page as the writer's personal pet peeve. Or what seems like it to me.
And one thing I remember from your own book, John, is that comment on autism. A short passing scene but did it ever drive a truth home and it felt totally legitimate to me coming from the characters.
I think Peter Robinson is a keen critic of the modern family and its problems: parents v. child, husband v wife. Also done well in the Indridison book Silence of the Grave.. Ruth Rendell scared me to death with Simisola. I had never heard about enslavement in modern day Britain before. Likewise she takes apart the family in the Wexford books. This critique of the family runs through most crime novels, of course, in the crime. But now we have the police, etc. suffering the same fate. Pelecanos looks at a disintegrating society as does Richard Price. Is it me or is crime fiction getting better all the time?
Oh yeah, Richard Price. They're all good, but Freedomland and Samaritan are really, really good. Thanks for mentioning Richard Price.


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