I would say the crime novel is any that explores the eternal criminal element in human nature. It is, therefore, not a narrow genre of any kind. “The Brothers Karamazov” is a crime novel. So is “Brighton Rock.” (Lawrence Osborne)
So from our perspective, crime fiction is any story that involves a crime or a threat of one. (Linda Landrigan)
My definition has become very expansive: If there’s a crime (or a plan for a crime), it’s a crime novel! (Leslie Klinger)
I want to turn this around: What great novel is NOT a crime novel? So many—maybe almost all—celebrated novels include at least one crime: Beloved, The Great Gatsby, The Sellout, The Goldfinch, The Brothers Karamazov, Sanctuary, The Sympathizer, Sing Unburied Sing, Lolita. And of course, LeCarre, Atwood, King, Lehane, Highsmith. And that’s just off the top of my head. This is one of the reasons I struggle with genre definitions. For me, there are two categories: worth reading, and not. (Debra Jo Immergut)
« Crime fiction » has always been a meaningless concept; now it’s also an absurd one. Maybe it’s time to ditch it once and for all; I for one would second that motion as I’m frankly tired to read such nonsense.
I’ve already said what I think about the whole issue many times in the past, so I won’t subject you poor readers to another rant of no use whatsoever as those that it might educate won’t read it. Please allow me however a couple of remarks.
« Crime fiction » used to be a mainly British term but it seems to be gaining ground in America as well, replacing the good old « Mystery ». I hear some saying it’s a change for the better as the former is more accurate and « inclusive » than the latter, but I can’t help thinking it also heralds a paradigm change, especially in the light of how broadly « crime fiction » is now defined. American « crime fiction » is increasingly less concerned with the mysterious and more or and more with the criminal as a vessel to « explore the criminal element in human nature » as Osborne put it. A change of name might be the way to signal a change of priorities, just as « serious » cartoonists coined the nefarious term « graphic novel » to separate themselves from the low-brow, entertainment-only comics.
Defining « crime fiction » is very much a Rorschach test anyway – everyone sees it differently according to their own biases, myself included. I then think extremely interesting and revealing that the only member of the panel to come up with an « orthodox » definition that distinguishes between « crime fiction » and « mystery », Jacqueline Winspear, is also the most « traditional » in terms of writing. Conversely, two of the « broad-church » offenders above – Osborne and Immergut – are visitors from literary fiction. This is not coincidence.
Coming after last year’s all-noir party, this year’s Edgar Awards promise to be very interesting not because of the nominees themselves but for the stance it will or won’t take in the debate. If everything is crime fiction then nothing is crime fiction and you end with the Grand Prix de Littérature Policière, an award so predicated upon this notion that it has become a parody. While I have had in the past and still have now my issues with the MWA I really, really don’t want a future in which Ron Rash wins a statuette because he’s written a book in which someone gets killed. One Robert Clark is enough.