Crime Fiction History

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Crime fiction in history

Crime Fiction became an accepted literary genre in the 19th century. The earliest story was “The Three Apples”, one of the tales narrated by Scheherazade in the One Thousand and One Nights (Arabian Nights). In this tale, a fisherman discovers a heavy, locked chest along the Tigris river and he sells it to the Abbasid Caliph, Harun al-Rashid, who then has the chest broken open only to find inside it the dead body of a young woman who was cut into pieces. Harun orders his vizier, Ja’far ibn Yahya, to solve the crime and find the murderer within three days, or be executed if he fails his assignment. Suspense is generated through multiple plot twists that occur as the story progesses. This may thus be considered an archetype for detective fiction.

The main difference between Ja’far in “” and later fictional detectives such as Miss Jane Marple and Hercule Poirot, however, is that Ja’far has no actual desire to solve the case. The whodunit mystery is solved by the murderer himself confessing his crime, which in turn leads to another assignment in which Ja’far has to find the culprit who instigated the murder within three days or else be executed. Ja’far again fails to find the culprit before the deadline, but as a result of his chance discovery of a key item, he eventually manages to solve the case through reasoning, in order to prevent his own execution.

[edit]Early Chinese crime stories Other early crime stories include the Ming Dynasty Chinese Crime Fiction such as Bao Gong And the 18th century novel Di Gong An . The latter was translated into English as Dee Goong An (Celebrated Cases of Judge Dee) by Dutch sinologist Robert Van Gulik, who then used the style and characters to write an original Judge Dee series.

The hero of these novels is typically a traditional judge or similar official based on historical personages such as Judge Bao (Bao Qingtian) or Judge Dee (Di Renjie). Although the historical characters may have lived in an earlier period (such as the Song or Tang dynasty) the novels are often set in the later Ming or Manchu period.

These novels differ from the Western genre in several points as described by van Gulik: the detective is the local magistrate who is usually involved in several unrelated cases simultaneously; the criminal is introduced at the very start of the story and his crime and reasons are carefully explained, thus constituting an inverted detective story rather than a “puzzle”; the stories have a supernatural element with ghosts telling people about their death and even accusing the criminal; the stories were filled with digressions into philosophy, the complete texts of official documents, and much more, making for very long books; the novels tended to have a huge cast of characters, typically in the hundreds, all described as to their relation to the various main actors in the story; little time is spent on the details of how the crime was committed but a great deal on the torture and execution of the criminals, even including their further torments in one of the various hells for the damned. Van Gulik chose Di Gong An to translate because it was in his view closer to the Western tradition and more likely to appeal to non-Chinese readers.

[edit]Description of crimes and detectives Forerunners of today’s crime fiction include the ghost story, the horror story, and the revenge story. Early examples of crime stories includes Steen Steensen Blichers The Rector of Veilbye (1829), Philip Meadows Taylor’s Confessions of a Thug (1839) and Maurits Christopher Hansens Mordet paa Maskinbygger Roolfsen (1839).

An example of an early crime/revenge story is the American poet and short story writer Edgar Allan Poe’s (1809–1849) tale “The Cask of Amontillado”, published in 1846.[6] Poe created the first fictional detective  in the character of C. Auguste Dupin, as the central character of some of his stories . In the words of William L. De Andrea  he was the first to create a character whose interest for the reader lay primarily on his ability to find hidden truths. Poe seems to have anticipated virtually every important development to follow in the genre, from the idea of a lesser side-kick to the detective as narrator (later epitomised in the Dr. Watson of the Sherlock Holmes stories) to the concept of an armchair detective to the prototype of the secret service story. “Locked room” mysteries Main article: Locked room mystery One of the early developments started by Poe was the so-called locked room mystery in “The Murders in the Rue Morgue”. Here, the reader is presented with a puzzle and encouraged to solve it before finishing the story and being told the solution.

These stories are so called because they involve  a murder in  locked rooms.  In the simplest case this is literally a hermetically sealed chamber which, to all appearances, no one could have entered or left at the time of the crime. More generally, it is any crime situation where the perpetrator came upon or fled the crime scene, yet it was  impossible for anyone to have done. One,  Agatha Christie’s  “And Then There Were None” is set on a small island.

The 1920s and 30s are referred to as the “Golden Age” of detective fiction. It’s best authors were British. a few were American with a British touch. Almost all of novels were whodunnits. Most had a preference for settings, in the English country house. A body is discoverd   Guests have just arrived for a weekend people who may or may not know each other: such characters as a handsome young gentleman and his beautiful and rich fiancé, usually an aged actress. An aspiring young author, a retired colonel, a quiet middle-aged man no one knows anything about who is supposedly the host’s old friend, but behaves suspsiciously and a famous detective. The police are either unavailable or incompetent to lead the investigation for the time being. [edit]Hard boiled American crime fiction writing A U.S. reaction to the cosy conventionality of British murder mysteries was the American hard-boiled school of crime writing (certain works in the field are also referred to as noir fiction). Writers like Dashiell Hammett,  Raymond Chandler, Jonathan Latimer, Mickey Spillane and others opted for a different approach to crime fiction writing. The typical American detective was modelled thus:

Age 35 to 45, a tough guy,he works alone. He drinks black coffee smokes cigarettes and e frequents shady all-night bars. He is a heavy drinker, and  always carries a gun.  He is poor, and usually involved with the mafia crime, lowlifes on the streets of Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, or Chicago. A hard-boiled private eye he has an iffy relationship with cops.

Modern crime writing

A shift from plot-driven themes to character analysis Over the decades, the detective story metamorphosed into the crime novel (see also the title of Julian Symons’ history of the genre). Starting with writers like Francis Iles, who has been described as “the father of the psychological suspense novel as we know it today,” more and more authors laid the emphasis on character rather than plot. Up to the present, lots of authors have tried their hand at writing novels where the identity of the criminal is known to the reader right from the start. The suspense is created by the author having the reader share the perpetrator’s thoughts—up to a point, that is—and having them guess what is going to happen next (for example, another murder, or a potential victim making a fatal mistake), and if the criminal will be brought to justice in the end. For example, Simon Brett’s A Shock to the System (1984) and Stephen Dobyns’ Boy in the Water (1999) both reveal the murderer’s identity quite early in the narrative. A Shock to the System is about a hitherto law-abiding business manager’s revenge which is triggered by his being passed over for promotion, and the intricate plan he thinks up to get back at his rivals. Boy in the Water is the psychological study of a man who, severely abused as a child, is trying to get back at the world at large now that he has the physical and mental abilities to do so. As a consequence of his childhood trauma, the killer randomly picks out his victims, first terrifying them and eventually murdering them. But Boy in the Water also traces the mental states of a group of people who happen to get in touch with the lunatic, and their reactions to him.

]Crime fiction in specific themes Apart from the emergence of the psychological thriller and the continuation of older traditions such as the whodunnit and the private eye novel, several new trends can be recognised. One of the first masters of the spy novel was Eric Ambler, whose unsuspecting and innocent protagonists are often caught in a network of espionage, betrayal and violence and whose only wish is to get home safely as soon as possible. Spy thrillers continue to fascinate readers even if the Cold War period is over now. Another development is the courtroom novel which, as opposed to courtroom drama, also includes many scenes which are not set in the courtroom itself but which basically revolves around the trial of the protagonist, who claims to be innocent but cannot (yet) prove it. Quite a number of U.S. lawyers have given up their jobs and started writing novels full-time, among them Scott Turow, who began his career with the publication of Presumed Innocent (1987) (the phrase in the title having been taken from the age-old legal principle that any defendant must be considered as not guilty until s/he is finally convicted). But there are also authors who specialise in historical mysteries—novels which are set in the days of the Roman Empire, in medieval England, the United States of the 1930s and 40s, or whenever (see historical whodunnit) — and even in mysteries set in the future. Remarkable examples can be found in any number of Philip K. Dick’s stories or novels.

[edit]LGBT crime fiction LGBT has also left its mark on the genre of crime fiction. Numerous private eyes are now women, some of them lesbians. Tally McGinnis, for example, is the young gay heroine of a series of novels by U.S. author Nancy Sanra (born 1944). Sanra’s Tally McGinnis mysteries, such as No Escape (1998), which is set in San Francisco, are quite traditional in other respects. Other female novelists include Sara Paretsky (born 1947), whose private detective V.I. Warshawski roams the streets of Chicago linking crimes to their perpetrators, who always seem to want to kill her for her efforts. In Britain, Scottish-born Val McDermid created lesbian journalist-cum-sleuth Lindsay Gordon, and Joan Smith (born 1953) has gained popularity as the author of a series of Loretta Lawson novels. Lawson is a university teacher and an amateur sleuth. In Full Stop (1995), she stops over at New York and is quickly devoured by the city.

[edit]Police investigation themes By far the richest field of activity though has been the police novel. U.S. (male) writer Hillary Waugh’s (1920–2008) police procedural Last Seen Wearing … (1952) is an early example of this type of crime fiction. As opposed to hard-boiled crime writing, which is set in the mean streets of a big city, Last Seen Wearing … carefully and minutely chronicles the work of the police, including all the boring but necessary legwork, in a small American college town where, in the dead of winter, an attractive student disappears. In contrast to armchair detectives such as Dr. Gideon Fell or Hercule Poirot, Chief of Police Frank W. Ford and his men never hold back information from the reader. By way of elimination, they exclude all the suspects who could not possibly have committed the crime and eventually arrive at the correct conclusion, a solution which comes as a surprise to most of them but which, due to their painstaking research, is infallible. The novel certainly is a whodunnit, but all the conventions of the cosy British variety are abandoned. A lot of reasoning has to be done by the police though, including the careful examination and re-examination of all the evidence available. Waugh’s police novel lacks “action” in the form of dangerous situations from which the characters can only make a narrow escape, but the book is nonetheless a page-turner of a novel, with all the suspense for the readers created through their being able to witness each and every step the police take in order to solve the crime.

Another example is American writer Faye Kellerman (born 1952), who wrote a series of novels featuring Peter Decker and his daughter by his first marriage, Cindy, who both work for the Los Angeles Police Department. Local colour is provided by the author, especially through Peter Decker’s Jewish background. In Stalker (2000), 25 year-old Cindy herself becomes the victim of a stalker, who repeatedly frightens her and also tries to do her bodily harm. Apart from her personal predicament, Cindy is assigned to clear up a series of murders that have been committed in the Los Angeles area. Again, the work of the police is chronicled in detail, but it would not be fiction if outrageous things did not intervene.

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