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By Charles J. Rzepka

A Companion to Crime Fiction provides the definitive consultant to this renowned style from its origins within the eighteenth century to the current day

  • A number of forty-seven newly commissioned essays from a workforce of major students around the globe make this Companion the definitive advisor to crime fiction
  • Follows the advance of the style from its origins within the eighteenth century via to its exceptional latest popularity
  • Features  full-length serious essays at the most vital authors and film-makers, from Arthur Conan Doyle and Dashiell Hammett to Alfred Hitchcock and Martin Scorsese exploring the ways that they've got formed and motivated the field
  • Includes wide references to the main up to date scholarship, and a complete bibliography

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The present chapter is structured around the division between investigative and transgressor-centered crime fiction, but it also emphasizes that this is in many ways an oversimplified binary. The forms that generic variation can take are complex, and the texts themselves frequently contain tensions and contradictory elements. Detective fiction is haunted by all it purports to contain. There are, for example, ambiguities inherent in the doubling of the detective and the murderer; there are numerous narratives in which the classic triangle of victim-murderer-detective is destabilized by changes in the role of the protagonist; and apparent narrative closure often co-exists with the representation of crime as irresolvable and omnipresent in modern society.

Abduction, adultery, murder, bigamy, fraud, seduction, forgery: the crimes in sensation fiction were social, personal, credible, and not committed by a criminal underclass but by the men and, shockingly, women of the middle and upper classes. Where the Newgate novels tended to be set in the past, sensation fiction was made sensational by its proximity to the present in both its action and its settings. Although charged with writing sensation fiction, with perhaps the exception of Oliver Twist and the unfinished Mystery of Edwin Drood (1870), Dickens’s use of crime and sensation in his novels was part of his exploration into and exposé of the darker side of nineteenth-century society.

Historically speaking, as recent critics have observed, golden age fiction can be seen as reacting against the bloodshed of war (Light 1991: 74–5): Dorothy Sayers’s Lord Peter Wimsey, for example, is haunted by his experience of war, and the title of Sayers’s first novel, Whose Body? (1923), can be seen as evoking “the ubiquity and anonymity of death between the trenches …” (Rzepka 2005: 164–7). As the Dowager Duchess says, “he was so dreadfully bad in 1918, you know, and I suppose we can’t expect to forget all about a great war in a year or two” (Sayers 1963: 135).

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