So the unimaginable finally happened: a thriller meant and marketed as such has found its way to the Booker Prize. Whether Smith wins or not, a precedent has been set, and crime fiction’s piccolo mondo will never be the same again. But is it really cause to rejoice? Have the walls finally tumbled down, and should they?
If you are of the persuasion that genre fiction is a ghetto and being embraced by mainstream critics as a « great writer » is the Valhalla any self-respecting author should seek, then it’s great news and there’s more to come and already coming. With « crime writers » being increasingly taken seriously and mainstream luminaries crossing the Rubicon, hopes are that, as Sarah Weinman suggests, « the so-called genre wars are lurching toward, if not an end, then at least a tentative cease-fire », the very thought of which is probably having the unlamented Edmund Wilson doing triple axels in his grave.
However, if you are the kind that has no problem with being in a ghetto as long as you’re the one holding the keys, then you might be more skeptical. Granted, the lines have blurred – but only on one side. The mainstream did not recede one inch, while mystery fiction has moved increasingly closer. We are still hearing and reading sornettes about « transcending the genre » every time a crime/mystery novel satisfies to orthodox criterias of good writing – and specialized critics are not the lesser offenders. It was hoped the genre would finally be accepted on its own terms; instead it has accepted those of the mainstream. Hardly reason for enthusiasm.
So, depending on your stance, the future of the genre may look bright or gloomy, a prospect of either long-awaited recognition or dissolution in the muddy waters of general fiction. Whatever may be, good reviews and even better sales make certain the move will continue for better or worse and Tom Rob Smith’s Booker nomination is just one step in that direction. A giant one? Time will tell.