A Few More Thoughts on The Problematic Forties

Upon rereading my previous post I realize that the phenomenon I described was primarily an American thing, as the contemporary British crime fiction landscape more or less remained the same as it had been before, though with slight surface updates. Most, if not all, local talents to emerge in the decade did so writing traditional detective novels. (Julian Symons himself started his career as a whodunit writer – his first published work, The Immaterial Murder Case, was actually written before the war – and waited until the next decade to drop the atomic bomb that was The 31st of February) As for the established writers that kept publishing during the period, none of them displayed any intention to break free from the tradition. From a British viewpoint and assuming Golden Age to be synonymous with the classical detective story, The Forties are definitely part of it as the genre still reigned supreme and prolific.

This, however, raises more questions about the concept. Does each country have a separate Golden Age with separate dates? Is the American Golden Age the same thing as the British one, despite seemingly overlapping? What about countries without any Golden Age at all? Can we keep talking about the Golden Age as a single entity when it’s becoming evident that it was anything but? Should we drop the concept entirely?

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Back to America, Bill Picard points out in an insightful comment that one possible reason why the local crime scene went so spectacularly out of orthodoxy to a more diverse landscape is the afflux of writers migrating from the moribund pulp market to the more lucrative one of novel writing. This probably accelerated the demise of the strict genre segregation that had marked most of the previous decades. Suddenly everyone put some hardboiled in their classic detection, some classic detection in their hardboiled or even – sacrilege of sacrileges – mixed both with some HIBK and madcap comedy. American crime fiction become syncretic, which it would remain from then on. The traditional mystery in America was never abolished; it was diluted.

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2 commentaires sur “A Few More Thoughts on The Problematic Forties

  1. If we take the golden age to equate to a certain style of writing a detective novel, then it does hold water internationally, as many countries took the UK template (first Sherlock and then later on Christie etc.) and imitated it. Japan and South America for instance. Not an unproblematic theory as imitation does not equate to identical and there would be variation. But it is less problematic than using golden age as a term for quality as whilst there are many brill GAD novels and it is my preferred crime reading, some absolute stinkers were also written.
    I don’t think we’ll be getting rid of the term golden age any time soon though.

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  2. Changes in the book market were probably very significant. If the decline of the pulps was important the rise of the paperback may have been even more crucial. The paperback boom didn’t necessarily benefit the established mid-range writers (in fact it may have hurt them quite a bit). It was new writers like Mickey Spillane in the US and Ian Fleming in Britain who really cleaned up.

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