Readers of this blog know the lack of theoretical thinking in contemporary mystery fiction is one of my pet-peeves. Modern authors, talent notwistanding, have often nothing or little of substance to say about the genre. China Mieville’s featured article on Jim Scalzi’s blog makes a refreshing exception. There are many good points there, but the most important might well be this one:
« […]Crime novels are not what they say they are. They are not, for a start, realist novels. Holmes’s intoxicating and ludicrous taxonomies derived from scuffs on a walking stick are not acts of ratiocination but of bravura magical thinking. (Not that they, or other ‘deductions’, are necessarily ‘illogical’, or don’t make sense of the evidence, but that they precisely do so: they make it into sense. The sense follows the detection, in these stories, not, whatever the claim, vice versa.) The various manly Virgils who appear ex nihilo to escort Marlowe through his oneiric purgatories are not characters, but eloquent opacities in man-shape: much more interesting. Dalgliesh’s irresistibility to hyperrealised moral panics du jour the poor man manages to contract SARS is an elegiac opera of Holland Park angst, rather than any quotidian gazette of a policeman’s unhappy lot. Detective fiction is a fiction of dreams. Not only is this no bad thing, it is precisely what makes it so indispensable. »
One of the reasons why I am skeptical of any kind of « realism » in mystery fiction is that I think the genre actually belongs in the realm of imaginative literature, up there with ghost stories, fantasy, sci-fi, chansons de geste and fairy tales to which detective stories have so often been compared. Today’s conception of the mystery genre as an offshot of naturalism to me is a profound and in many ways tragic misunderstanding. I may elaborate on this later.
(via Sarah Weinman)