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This is an academic analysis of crime fiction looking at how it has evolved since its inception, which Peter Messent dates back to Poe’s Dupin tales. Messent discusses the different types of crime fiction which he categorises as Classical, Hard Boiled, the Police novel and Transgressor fiction and shows how each category affects and is affected by wider aspects of society such as gender, race and politics. He gives particular importance to the increasing urbanisation of society in the development away from the straightforward murder mystery of early crime fiction towards the more noirish approach of many writers as the 20th century progressed. In the final section, Messent looks in depth at certain books in each of the categories, relating them to his previous analyses.
The book is interesting if a little dry at times. While occasionally I felt that Messent was over-analysing or reading things into the texts that weren’t completely justifiable, on the whole his arguments were convincing and well supported with evidence. His analyses are based largely on American fiction with a substantial minority of British writers, especially from the classical era, but with very little from other countries. Messent accepts this himself as a weakness of the book, pointing out that there is so much crime fiction that an exhaustive analysis would be difficult. He expresses the hope that the work he has done in this book will be seen as a jumping off point for future academics to extend the arguments beyond the authors he has chosen.
Overall, I enjoyed the book, particularly the final part with Messent’s reading of specific texts such as The Big Sleep, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd etc. Any crime fiction enthusiast will be familiar with the majority of the texts he has chosen and this helps to put his analyses into context. Recommended for anyone who would like to look a little more deeply into the place crime fiction has carved out for itself in literature and, indeed, in the wider context of society as a whole.
Peter Messent is Emeritus Professor of Modern American Literature at Nottingham University.
NB This book was provided for review by Amazon Vine UK.