Examining the Crossroads of Crime Writing

There is no doubt that crime writing is now one of the most widely read genres of writing; there is something for everyone in sheer variety alone. And, although in academic circles we know this literature has value beyond its sensationalist leanings, the project of understanding what attracts global audiences to these texts, why they seek them, and how the interplay between reader and narrative functions is ongoing. But, one thing is clear—true crime, crime fiction and its many sub-genres (detective fiction, police procedurals, thrillers, cozies, noir, historical narratives and more) all highlight and expose social issues that reflect the zeitgeist of a particular locale and moment in history. Given this capability, the popularity of Crime Writing as a whole is firmly rooted in conceptions of what Astrid Erll refers to as cultural memory, or those very processes that define how we identify ourselves and the societies in which we live in relation to the past, present and future. As a result, crime writing mimics, explores and tests the very boundaries (physical, geographical, mapped, culturally imagined and beyond) of our collective experiences and exacerbates, perpetuates or exposes our societal fears.

The Crossroads of Crime Writing was born out of a desire and need to examine those intersections of crime writing that are predicated on the unseen structures (e.g., rhetorical, political, environmental) and spatial uncertainties that are directly associated with such sociological constructions. For example, Neo-Victorian mysteries such as Anne Perry’s William Monk and Thomas Pitt detective series are well liked because they are rooted in historical narratives that both provide the underpinnings for conceptions of modern life and reflect our current anxieties, concerns which are often perceived to be unique to a given time period but are in fact persistent matters of the human condition. With that said, by simultaneously existing in the past and present, these texts also highlight social perceptions and record cultural memories particularly in relation to conceptions of the law, crime, law enforcement and justice. This is where the process of deep mapping, or exposing the layered discourses constructed by cultural ephemera such as maps, newspaper articles, court documents or other ephemeral media, is a useful tool, as Les Roberts tells us, showing the role texts play in constructing our sense of space, place, temporality, history and even memory, all of which contribute to conceptions of what crime is, where it occurs, who participates and why. Charles Booth’s Poverty Maps of London (1889), for instance, are extremely helpful in examining the aforementioned Perry series, as the details of the physical and socioeconomic margins of London’s various districts clarify and unmask how cultural memory is affected by the flexibility and fragility of the sociological borders that are the culturally constructed means that seek to define and contain crime. Of course, this is just one example of how the practice of deep mapping not only informs our sense of place as it relates to a crime narrative but also provides a window into how cultural memories and societal anxieties are formed and sustained.

Each essay in our collection examines in some way the functioning of the unseen, uncertain and, frequently, unquestioned as they operate in a broad range of crime narratives. The collection as a whole underscores the many different approaches and techniques wielded by authors (such as Stieg Larsson, Attica Locke, Valerie Wilson Wesley, Jo Nesbø and others) who use crime writing as a tool of both art and analysis to reveal the constructedness, permeability and, indeed, vulnerability of the structures and spaces in which crime takes place. In fact, the question of what may be defined as ‘crime’ is amplified and interrogated. In a more expansive sense, the chapters within demonstrate the ability of crime writing in its many forms not simply to engage and entertain, but to reveal with subtlety the functioning and, perhaps, susceptibility to alteration of unseen and unsuspected forces that underlie what may seem, on the surface, to be the timeless and unyielding questions and crises of the contemporary world.