Thursday, April 2, 2015

here's food for thought -- "Why crime fiction is left wing, and thrillers are right wing," by Val McDermid

Val McDermid, from the bbc
This morning's email pointed me to  an interesting article written by Val McDermid for The Guardian. Entitled "Why crime fiction is left wing, and thrillers are right wing," Ms. McDermid hits on  a topic I've been thinking about for a very long time. At a crime writing festival in France where "They take crime fiction seriously..." over the weekend, she notes that people there are especially interested in "the place of politics in literature," which doesn't seem surprising if you at all follow French politics and what's been happening there lately. But more interesting to me is how she discusses the political question in both crime fiction and in thrillers.

For starters, she notes that
"... the current preoccupations of the crime novel, the roman noir, the krimi lean to the left. It's critical of the status quo, sometimes overtly, sometimes more subtly. It often gives a voice to characters who are not comfortably established in the world -- immigrants, sex workers, the poor, the old. The dispossessed and the people who don't vote." 
 I find myself agreeing with her.  Crime fiction for me is a case of trying to understand what factors external to a "villain" or a "good guy gone bad" helped to put him/her in that position. Where does the system break down for these people? Is it a case of psychological factors?  What might have brought things around differently?

 Examining society's ills is not new in crime fiction.  Not all that long ago I read the complete Martin Beck series written by Sjöwall and Wahlöö, one book after the other precisely because the first book grabbed me with its attention to social issues in Sweden.  Roseanna was published in 1965; the last Beck novel was published in 1975.  The story is well known:  Wahlöö published a book about the social ills of his country and it didn't sell, so brainstorming the problem, he and his wife decided to put their concerns into crime fiction, which ended up becoming incredibly popular.  I then buried myself in  Scandinavian crime fiction for  a really long time because other authors were starting to pick up on this winning formula and for me, as someone who is always more interested in the "why" rather than the "who," well, it was nothing less than a bonanza of like-minded thinkers.  When I got a bit bored with Scandinavian crime, I moved onto authors from  France, Italy, and other European nations, and discovered that by and large among the ones I read, they were also deep into social/economic/political concerns.  But here's the thing -- I went way back into American crime and discovered that writers of the late 1920s and 1930s here were also in their own way pointing out societal flaws.  Look at Horace McCoy's most excellent novel They Shoot Horses, Don't They? written in 1935, as just one example, or Chandler's take on a corrupt Los Angeles of his day.

And then there's the thriller, a completely different animal, at least to me.  As the article states,
"The thriller, on the other hand, tends toward the conservative, probably because the threat implicit in the thriller is the world turned upside down, the idea of being stripped of what matters to you." 
I can't speak for anyone else, but I've noticed what  seems to be a huge upswing in the thriller market these days, especially favoring books with a lot of action in terms of gun violence, rogue military/CIA or whatever agents, the threats posed by lethal viruses in hands of our enemies, Russian mob takeovers, political infiltrations, gun smuggling, the border patrol and the DEA,  yada yada etc. etc -- some of the most horrific scenarios one can imagine. Then, of course, comes either the strong-man hero/badass chick heroine who makes the world safe for another day, or the unlikely hero who sort of stumbles into the unimaginable and vows to make things right.

A friend noted that in a very oversimplified way, he thinks crime fiction readers want justice while thriller readers want victory.  I'm not sure that applies to my own way of reading/thinking about crime fiction, but for most readers I think that may be more the case than not.

 McDermid notes that
"When people lose trust in politicians, they need to find it elsewhere. Maybe, because they trust writers to tell some kind of truth buried in the fictions, we’re being listened to in a way we rarely have before. And that’s a scary thought."
Scary indeed, but I think she's right on the money.

No comments:

Post a Comment

I don't care what you write, but do be nice about it