Huff Post on Crime Fiction: What do you think?

Huffington Post book blogger Jason Pinter has a column about "The State of the Crime Novel." It's a fairly Yankocentric appraisal of current crime writing by a series of top US reviewers. It includes this from veteran mystery columnist Oline H. Cogdill: "One of the main missions of crime novels is to paint a timely portrait of the issues in our times. This doesn't mean these novels have to hit you over the head with a message or make a soapbox with their plots. The more subtle, the better. Crime novels are the social novels of today." I agree with that -- I've certainly tried to have my Palestinian detective novels function as an entertaining way to examine the society of the West Bank and Gaza -- though I don't think it's a necessary condition for a crime novel to be great. It's certainly true that by their nature crime novels are more likely to travel beyond the hallowed halls of the creative writing faculty in their search for material than so-called "literary" fiction. What do you think?

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Comment by I. J. Parker on November 8, 2009 at 8:02am
Who's wasting time? This place is good for the soul.
Comment by I. J. Parker on November 8, 2009 at 12:46am
There are all sorts of chances. Sometimes (not very often) it works.
Comment by Jon Loomis on November 7, 2009 at 7:58am
There might even be someone taking those kinds of chances today ;)

They might even be wasting their time on Crimespace!
Comment by I. J. Parker on November 7, 2009 at 7:47am
Liked the article. Few authors get such detailed reviews. I wasn't terribly overwhelmed with LUSH LIFE, though I grant you the fun dialogue. In the end, I didn't care that much about the characters.
Comment by John Dishon on November 7, 2009 at 4:44am
Someone needs to tel Codgill what "mainstream" means because if crime fiction doesn't count as mainstream, I don't know what does.

The best was when they were asked how relevant the crime novel is today and Anderson said "At their best, highly relevant." *clapclap* Wow, great answer.

This article shows very well, I think, one big problem with crime fiction: its critics. They're terrible. There's no real insight in anything said here. The responses are vague, or their claims left unsubstantiated. I mean, if you say crime fiction is more socially relevant than any other genre, how about giving some examples of how? Crime fiction is in desperate need of a critic like James Wood, someone who knows how delve into a topic and really analyze it, someone who knows what he's talking about.

To show you what crime fiction is missing out on, here is James Wood's review of LUSH LIFE by Richard Price: http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/books/2008/04/07/080407crbo_b... . How can anyone read that review and not be interested in reading the book?
Comment by I. J. Parker on November 7, 2009 at 4:14am
Wow! In the first place, Oline Cogdill is wrong. The crime novel is not social analysis. She frequently is wrong in her pronouncements. Sometimes you wonder where the hell the critics get their ideas. And sometimes you know. They'll say just about anything that sounds good because they don't know what clever new point to make about a genre that seems to be in need of constantly re-inventing itself -- if for no other reason than that reviewers have run out of ideas that will make their opinions shine. Let them stick to individual books instead of trying to listen to the heartbeat of crime fiction in order to diagnose its condition.

As for the dis (or is it diss?): We do what we want here. What business is it of Kate Stine's? Did she decide she couldn't do her thing here for some reason? Which is what? And why is it better than what we do?

Damn. Sometimes people make me mad.
Comment by John McFetridge on November 7, 2009 at 3:56am
Well, sure, Jon, there are always exceptions. There might even be someone taking those kinds of chances today ;)
Comment by Jon Loomis on November 7, 2009 at 2:37am
Kate Stine: I'm not sure how it has impacted the novel itself but it's certainly wasting a lot of writers' time. Most of the blogs appear to be about the publishing or promotion process which attracts would-be writers more than would-be readers. Often writers just end up talking to each other. Social networking has the same problem: see Crimespace for an example.

Because writers talking to each other is a problem. Or something.

Re John: justice isn't always served by the greats, who are willing to take chances with formulaic stuff. Chandler and Highsmith come to mind, particularly.
Comment by John McFetridge on November 7, 2009 at 2:28am
Yeah, I saw the dis. A while ago someone said, "The internet is our Paris of the 20's." I'm still looking for the good wine and cheap food, but I do appreciate the meeting people.

Sometimes I feel the need to defend literature. We often talk about it as if it's all fluffy, 'beautiful language,' when really, there is plenty of literature taking on the issues of the day.

The problem I have with a lot of crime fiction, "mystery" fiction really, is that while the background may have a lot of good social issue discussion, the story that drives them is usually solved, the killers caught. Some people claim that's what they like about myseries, that justice is served, but if it's always served in the main story in the book, does that take away from the issues brought up?
Comment by Dana King on November 7, 2009 at 2:10am
I did notice the diss, and thought it was a reach.

I don't think an examination of society of required for crime fiction to be great, but it can ground the story better than a "pure" mystery. Character motivations are better defined and multiple layers of conflict are there to be used at will. The writer has to beware of getting preachy, but examining societal issues can definitely elevate a good premise to a higher plane.

I'll probably catch hell for this, but I don't know why people tend to include Patrick Anderson in panels of this sort. I've read his book, and several of his reviews. The book is a sloppily put together compilation of excerpts from his reviews, and his "overview" of top writers is a joke. He's more like an Amazon.com reviewer with a thesaurus than a serious critic.

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