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This chapter engages with the tensions between periphery and centre that are displayed by all forms of world crime fiction but that are especially telling in crime fiction in French. The notion of ‘French crime fiction’ is analysed, including the tensions inherent in Frenchness itself (the Francophone debate) and those between literature and genre fiction. Case studies include the nouveau roman, especially Michel Butor’s Passing Time, which stages the rules of crime fiction while simultaneously mapping them overseas; the nexus formed by Albert Camus’ The Outsider and Kamal Daoud’s The Meursault Investigation; the territorial and literary double spaces of Didier Daeninckx’s Murder in Memoriam; and questions of decapitation in Georges Simenon’s Maigret and the Headless Corpse and Marguerite Duras’s L’Amante anglaise. Additionally, the relationship between France, the Caribbean and Québec is traced in the genre-bending works of Maryse Condé, Patrick Chamoiseau, Fred Vargas and Anne Hébert. Through these texts, their points of intersection and their generic and geographical movements, crime fiction in French will be shown to exemplify the mobilities of world crime fiction.
Accessible yet comprehensive, this first systematic account of crime fiction across the globe offers a deep and thoroughly nuanced understanding of the genre's transnational history. Offering a lucid account of the major theoretical issues and comparative perspectives that constitute world crime fiction, this book introduces readers to the international crime fiction publishing industry, the translation and circulation of crime fiction, international crime fiction collections, the role of women in world crime fiction, and regional forms of crime fiction. It also illuminates the past and present of crime fiction in various supranational regions across the world, including East and South Asia, the Arab World, Sub-Saharan Africa, Europe and Scandinavia, as well as three spheres defined by a shared language, namely the Francophone, Lusophone, and Hispanic worlds. Thoroughly-researched and broad in scope, this book is as valuable for general readers as for undergraduate and postgraduate students of popular fiction and world literature.
Crime fiction, as a constituent member of the field of ‘popular literature’ and an object of literary criticism, has historically been encumbered by a set of restrictive preconceptions: that the genre does not warrant detailed critical analysis, that genre norms and conventions matter more than textual individuality, and that comparative or transnational perspectives are secondary to the study of the core British-American canon. The present volume challenges the distinction between literary and popular fiction, which we regard as a relic of a previous, elitist view of literature. Also, and more importantly, it posits that this baggage hinders our engagement with what we regard as the inherent mobility of crime fiction. It is easy enough to point towards individual crime fiction narratives that validate the critical blueprints. Yet, we argue that crime fiction is nonetheless characterized by a transgressive impulse that actively reflects on and challenges its own generic limitations, thereby potentially recuperating the genre from the stasis of established forms. This is what we understand by mobility: crime fiction, far from being static and staid, must be seen as a genre constantly violating its own boundaries. There is an unacknowledged experimental streak to this genre – an easy slippage between affirming the codes and conventions on the one hand, and on the other hand boldly calling into question and venturing beyond its textual, generic and national traditions. Acknowledging these ‘criminal moves’, or these modes of crime fiction mobility, enables a comprehensive reinterpretation of the history of the genre that also has profound ramifications for our reading of individual crime fiction texts.
The dynamic, text-based conception of crime fiction that we advocate here responds to elements present in the works of, among others, Gill Plain (2001), Lee Horsley (2005) and Merja Makinen (2006), each of whom has advocated the use of close-reading methodologies as a means of highlighting the sophisticated textual strategies employed in the genre. Maurizio Ascari (2007), moreover, has contested the official canon of crime fiction from the point of view of literary history, calling attention instead to a counter-history of the genre based on very different rules and conventions. Further, Stephen Knight (2015) and Pierre Bayard (2000, 2009), coming from opposing theoretical traditions, have argued for a return to the crime text itself, the former seeking to recover its voice and lost meaning, the latter aiming to unleash its semantic potential beyond the detective hero's authoritative solutions.
In 2015 Australian crime fiction scholarship witnessed a double event. Two books, Stephen Knight's Secrets of Crime Fiction Classics and Lucy Sussex's Blockbuster! Fergus Hume and the Mystery of a Hansom Cab, were published with a common double motive: both wanted to give new voice to lesser-known, almost forgotten and, in some cases, underrated crime novels; and as a secondary aim, both aspired to harness this multiplicity of under-heard textual voices in order to drown out, or at least to Babelize, the dominant discourse of crime fiction's nineteenth-century origins, according to which the genre emerged in its recognizably modern form directly out of Edgar Allan Poe's self-styled tales of ratiocination, beginning with ‘The Murders in the Rue Morgue’. Knight (2015: 4) is at pains to relegate Poe to a place among the later pioneers and, to this end, privileges the important early roles of both French and American authors, including Eugène Vidocq, William Godwin and Charles Brockden Brown; for her part, Lucy Sussex, in a passage redolent of Maurizio Ascari's ‘refusal of any monogenetic account of the origin of literary genres’ (2007: 8), cites individual pioneers but places her emphasis on a rich literary mix:
Crime fiction has a creation myth: that it began with Poe, an immaculate genre conception with his 1841 short story ‘The Murders in the Rue Morgue’. Mythic indeed: crime fiction's origins in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century were more polygenetic, with DNA coming from various sources, from legal reform to the development of policing and forensics. It arose from a stew of genres, where different forms of writing met and mingled promiscuously. (2015: 76)
At the heart of this myth of crime fiction's immaculate conception is the monolithic status of Poe's work itself. Against the Babelian promiscuity put forward by Sussex, Poe's tales of ratiocination seem to have spoken with one voice; indeed, the very term ‘tales of ratiocination’, despite the plural of the word ‘tales’, has come to embody the kind of univocity against which the Yale School of deconstruction simultaneously erected and pulled down its own (ivory and iconoclastic) Babelian towers (I am thinking especially here of Jacques Derrida's ‘Des Tours de Babel’ [cf. Derrida 1985: 209–48]). Rather than a receptacle or transmitter of diversity and miscegenation, Poe continues to be the rock on, and against, which crime fiction has grown up, reached out and become many.
Criminal Moves: Modes of Mobility in Crime Fiction offers a major intervention into contemporary theoretical debates about crime fiction. It seeks to overturn the following preconceptions: that the genre does not warrant critical analysis, that genre norms and conventions matter more than textual individuality, and that comparative perspectives are secondary to the study of the British-American canon. Criminal Moves challenges the distinction between literary and popular fiction and proposes that crime fiction be seen as constantly violating its own boundaries. Centred on three axes of mobility, the essays ask how can we imagine a mobile reading practice that realizes the genre's full textual complexity, without being limited by the authoritative self-interpretations provided by crime narratives; how we can overcome restrictive notions of 'genre', 'formula' or 'popular'; and how we can establish transnational perspectives that challenge the centrality of the British-American tradition and recognize that the global history of crime fiction is characterized, not by the existence of parallel national traditions, but rather by processes of appropriation and transculturation. Criminal Moves presents a comprehensive reinterpretation of the history of the genre that also has profound ramifications for how we read individual crime fiction texts.