What are some examples of crime literature that serves as deep social commentary?

I ask this question in the interest of furthering the high respect that I think crime literature deserves.  In the news recently there have been many journalists kidnapped and killed.  Could it not be that in some places in the world writing fiction to explore social injustice, bigotry, religious extremism, corruption, organized crime, and violence, that it may be safer to do in a fictional vein.


I in no way mean to suggest that crime fiction can, or should replace journalism, just that in some places it might reach a wider audience, and the story element might pull people through a longer and deeper exploration of ideas and points of view, than would a strict journalistic article.


As the European editor of Noir Nation, I would love to see some non-fiction short stories on these topics, and have a journalistic tie-in.



The discussion on this forum has gotten quite a lot of responses.  This has inspired us at Noir Nation to add a new section to the first issue of Noir Nation wherein writers opine on the following question: Must crime noir have a moral point?  The word limit is 300 to 500 words. Include short bio, and photo. There is a $25 honoraria, payable on publication. Best five get published in Issue No. 1. Send to eddie@evegaonline.com -- Eddie Vega

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Ask them if they've heard of a book called Crime and Punishment.

Definitely!  Excellent point.  I should have mentioned that one first.  I think the trouble is the labels the big book companies put on the books.  The big companies probably do it out of long experience and to make more money, which is both good and bad for authors.  You may write a brilliant and poignant crime novel, but if it get's labeled "Literatrue" it is likely to miss a lot of readers.  What section of the book store is C & P in?   And if you write a brilliant "literary" novel and it get's labeled "crime" then it also misses the boat.  The label helps and hurts.  Thus I think it comes down to writers to educate readers, or at least to make sure they are writing the absolute best work they can do. Mario Puzo later said about The Godfather books that if he'd have known they were going to be read so much and be around so long, that he'd have written them better. That is what Noir Nation and Bare Knuckles Press is trying to do, to offer a forum where that line, literature/crime, doesn't exist.  Like with anything, many of the problems we have today is because people don't think in the long term.  We should all write as if we were writing to put our grandkids through college, not just get through years rent, or the next election cycle.



Alan, I used to be one of those "poets" who turned up her nose at quote-unquote: crime fiction, so I relate to your comment about the snooty attitude, and I--happily--have learned how sophomoric that stance is.  I've since matured in my understanding of what constitutes "literature." 


You make a memorable point that many should heed: the label helps and hurts, so it comes down to writing our best, as if we're putting our grandkids through college, as if--I believe--our work will exist, and be read forever, by the best minds.


I think the line between literature/crime has been blurred for myriad reasons, or that it exists artificially, as you point out, because of commercially misapplied labels.  However, superb writing endures, regardless of the label.  I think immediately of Stephen Hamilton's The Lock Artist.  I've elucidated a few of the reasons why on my review blog.  Not to shamelessly promote (this isn't the right spot on CS) but I wish to point you and all CSrs to my review blog so you can see why I think there is no true line between literature/crime, and to provide you an example.  Here's the link: www.buzzardbone.blogspot.com.  The Lock Artist doesn't have any moral per se, and I point that out, but it is a well-wrought piece of literary fiction, as well as crime fiction, and it's won the Edgar for its label: YA mystery.  

Perfect, Albert.  And I'm appalled at the number of authors claim to be writers, but who don't read across their genres, or at anyone who hasn't read Crime and Punishment

Dan, with you on this.  I can take--or leave--the soapbox IF the writing's solid.  But I wonder . . . how many authors sit down to consciously integrate some social message into their work, or not?  Or . . . in which novels the social message could simply be something readers dug out for themselves?   


J.A. Konrath rants about this issue on his site.  He touts his "no message, no soapbox" books.  I've yet to read them to see whether I agree with him or not because I think it's nearly impossible to write a mystery, suspense, or true crime novel that has no message whatsoever. 


Yeah, so I'm off to deconstruct Konrath and then on to Noir Nation, or vice versa.  

Haven't read Konrath's books (not my sort of thing), but it seems to me that crime frequently is an intensely private thing that would preclude attention to social ills. It's, of course, also possible to commit a crime or solve it precisely because of one's stand on a particular issue.

I.J., Konrath touts his "antimessage, antisoapbox" writing, and oh boy, does he rant against those novels that deliver on the soapbox. 


I think you made a great point somewhere on this thread about novels that are too didactic and how it feels like the authors are hitting you on the head with their message.  I agree: it's really how--not whether--the message is delivered.  


Honestly, just by making a choice to write about anything puts us in the position of delivering a message.  In Konrath's case, with the names of alcoholic drinks for titles, what do you think the stories are going to be about?   And in my case, Vengeance Is Mine: the Profiler's Passion, and in your case, and in every writer's case . . . . Don't all of our choices of subjects reflect some message, whether it's overt or embedded in titles (as in Konrath's case), or somewhere our novels' content?    

Some of that title business is the publisher's fault.  They like to set up a series with recognizable titles. In my case, I was asked to change all of my titles to place names. I refused and didn't get another contract.

My aversion to agendas has something to do with the fact that I used to teach the research paper and we did that via controversial topics. A lot of agendas wandered across my desk. Particularly those that had been in the news quite a bit. Then I saw writers using the same subjects to flesh out their novels. It was strictly secondhand material, particularly for me.

Yes, that is an ideal toward which to strive.

Can I do the shameless thing here and promote my own crime novel? I meant it to ultimately be a critique about celebrity worship. It's called "Cleansing Eden."

But if I'm not allowed to do the shameless thing here, please disregard my comment.

Sure, why not.  True communication always has an element of self-promotion to it, even if it is not conscious.


Who published your book?  It on Amazon?

Trestle Press. Yeah, it's on Amazon. All over the place. Book loads are probably being dumped in the oceans as we speak.


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