Crime fiction is a literary genre that fictionalises crimes, their detection, criminals, and their motives. It is usually distinguished from mainstream fiction and other genres such as historical fiction or science fiction, but the boundaries are indistinct. Crime fiction has multiple subgenres, including detective fiction (such as the whodunit), courtroom drama, hard-boiled fiction and legal thrillers. Most crime drama focuses on crime investigation and does not feature the court room. Suspense and mystery are key elements that are nearly ubiquitous to the genre.
One of the earliest stories in which solving a crime is central to the story is Oedipus Rex, in which the search for the murderer of the previous king, leads to the downfall of the current one. Another early example of crime fiction is gong’ an fiction in China, which involved government magistrates who solved criminal court cases and first appeared in colloquial stories of the Song dynasty.
The earliest known modern crime fiction is E. T. A. Hoffmann's 1819 novella Mademoiselle de Scudéri. There is also Thomas Skinner Sturr's anonymous Richmond, or stories in the life of a Bow Street Officer (1827); another early full-length short-story in the genre is The Rector of Veilbye by the Danish author Steen Steensen Blicher, published in 1829.
Better known are the earlier dark works of Edgar Allan Poe. His brilliant and eccentric detective C. Auguste Dupin, a forerunner to Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, appeared in works such as "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" (1841), "The Mystery of Marie Roget" (1842), and "The Purloined Letter" (1844). With his Dupin stories, Poe provided the framework for the classic detective story. The detective’s unnamed companion is the narrator of the stories and a prototype for the character of Dr. Watson in later Sherlock Holmes stories.
Wilkie Collins' epistolary novel The Woman in White was published in 1860, while The Moonstone (1868) is often thought to be his masterpiece. French author Émile Gaboriau's Monsieur Lecoq (1868) laid the groundwork for the methodical, scientifically minded detective.
The evolution of locked room mysteries was one of the landmarks in the history of crime fiction. The Sherlock Holmes mysteries of Arthur Conan Doyle are said to have been singularly responsible for the huge popularity in this genre. A precursor was Paul Féval, whose series Les Habits Noirs (1862–67) features Scotland Yard detectives and criminal conspiracies. The best-selling crime novel of the nineteenth century was Fergus Hume's The Mystery of a Hansom Cab (1886), set in Melbourne, Australia.
The evolution of the print mass media in the United Kingdom and the United States in the latter half of the 19th century was crucial in popularising crime fiction and related genres. Literary 'variety' magazines like Strand, McClure's, and Harper's quickly became central to the overall structure and function of popular fiction in society, providing a mass-produced medium that offered cheap, illustrated publications that were essentially disposable.
Like the works of many other important fiction writers of his day—e.g. Wilkie Collins and Charles Dickens—Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories first appeared in serial form in the monthly Strand magazine in the United Kingdom. The series quickly attracted a wide and passionate following on both sides of the Atlantic, and when Doyle killed off Holmes in The Final Problem, the public outcry was so great, and the publishing offers for more stories so attractive, that he was reluctantly forced to resurrect him.
In Italy, local authors began to produce crime mysteries in the 1850s. Early translations of English and American stories and local works were published in cheap yellow covers and thus the genre was baptized with the term "Giallo Libri" or yellow books. The genre was outlawed by the Fascists during WWII but exploded in popularity after the war, especially influenced by the American hard-boiled school of crime fiction. There emerged a group of mainstream Italian writers who used the detective format to create an anti-detective or postmodern novel in which the detectives are imperfect, the crimes usually unsolved and clues left for the reader to decipher. Famous writers include Leonardo Sciascia, Umberto Eco, and Carlo Emilio Gadda.
In Spain, The Nail and other Tales of Mystery and Crime was published by Pedro Antonio de Alarcón in 1853. Crime fiction in Spain (also curtailed in Francoist Spain) took on some very special characteristics that reflected the culture of the country. The Spanish writers emphasized the corruption and ineptitude of the police and depicted the authorities and the wealthy in very negative terms.
In China, modern crime fiction was first developed from translations of foreign works from the 1890s. Cheng Xiaoqing, considered "The Grand Master" of twentieth-century Chinese detective fiction, translated Sherlock Holmes into classical and vernacular Chinese. In the late 1910s, Cheng began writing his own detective fiction series, Sherlock in Shanghai, mimicking Conan Doyle’s style but reappropriating to a Chinese audience. During the Mao era, crime fiction was suppressed and mainly Soviet-styled and anti-capitalist. In the post-Mao era, crime fiction in China focused on corruption and harsh living conditions during the Mao era (such as the Cultural Revolution).
Crime fiction provides unique psychological impacts and enables readers to become mediated witnesses through identifying with eyewitnesses to a crime. Readers speak of crime fiction as a mode of escapism to cope with other aspects of their life.Crime fiction provides distraction from readers’ personal lives through a strong narrative at a comfortable distance. Forensic crime novels have been referred to as ‘distraction therapy’, proposing that crime fiction can improve mental health and be considered as a form of treatment to prevent depression.
As far as the history of crime fiction is concerned, some authors have been reluctant to publish their crime novels under their real names. More currently, some publish pseudonymously because of the belief that since the large booksellers are aware of their historical sales figures, and command a certain degree of influence over publishers, the only way to "break out" of their current advance numbers is to publish as someone with no track record.
In the late 1930s and 40s, British County Court judge Arthur Alexander Gordon Clark (1900–1958) published a number of detective novels under the alias Cyril Hare in which he made use of his profoundly extensive knowledge of the English legal system. When he was still young and unknown, award-winning British novelist Julian Barnes (born 1946) published some crime novels under the alias Dan Kavanagh. Other authors take delight in cherishing their alter egos: Ruth Rendell (1930-2015) writes one sort of crime novels as Ruth Rendell and another type as Barbara Vine; John Dickson Carr also used the pseudonym Carter Dickson. The author Evan Hunter (which itself was a pseudonym) wrote his crime fiction under the name of Ed McBain.
As with any other entity, quality of a crime fiction book is not in any meaningful proportion to its availability. Some of the crime novels generally regarded as the finest, including those regularly chosen by experts as belonging to the best 100 crime novels ever written (see bibliography), have been out of print ever since their first publication, which often dates back to the 1920s or 30s. The bulk of books that can be found today on the shelves labelled "Crime" consists of recent first publications usually no older than a few years.
Furthermore, only a select few authors have achieved the status of "classics" for their published works. A classic is any text that can be received and accepted universally, because they transcend context. A popular, well known example is Agatha Christie, whose texts, originally published between 1920 and her death in 1976, are available in UK and US editions in all English speaking nations. Christie's works, particularly featuring detectives Hercule Poirot or Miss Jane Marple, have given her the title the 'Queen of Crime' and made her one of the most important and innovative writers in the development of the genre. Her most famous novels include Murder on the Orient Express (1934), Death on the Nile (1937), and the world's best-selling mystery And Then There Were None (1939).
Other less successful, contemporary authors who are still writing have seen reprints of their earlier works, due to current overwhelming popularity of crime fiction texts among audiences. One example is Val McDermid, whose first book appeared as far back as 1987; another is Florida-based author Carl Hiaasen, who has been publishing books since 1981, all of which are readily available.
From time to time publishing houses decide, for commercial purposes, to revive long-forgotten authors and reprint one or two of their more commercially successful novels. Apart from Penguin Books, who for this purpose have resorted to their old green cover and dug out some of their vintage authors, Pan started a series in 1999 entitled "Pan Classic Crime," which includes a handful of novels by Eric Ambler, but also American Hillary Waugh's Last Seen Wearing .... In 2000, Edinburgh-based Canongate Books started a series called "Canongate Crime Classics," —both a whodunnit and a roman noir about amnesia and insanity—and other novels. However, books brought out by smaller publishers like Canongate Books are usually not stocked by the larger bookshops and overseas booksellers. The British Library has also (since 2012) starting republishing "lost" crime classics, with the collection referred to on their website as "British Library Crime Classics series".
Sometimes older crime novels are revived by screenwriters and directors rather than publishing houses. In many such cases, publishers then follow suit and release a so-called "film tie-in" edition showing a still from the movie on the front cover and the film credits on the back cover of the book—yet another marketing strategy aimed at those cinemagoers who may want to do both: first read the book and then watch the film (or vice versa). Recent examples include Patricia Highsmith's The Talented Mr. Ripley (originally published in 1955), Ira Levin's Sliver (1991), with the cover photograph depicting a steamy sex scene between Sharon Stone and William Baldwin straight from the 1993 movie, and, again, Bret Easton Ellis's American Psycho (1991). Bloomsbury Publishing PLC on the other hand have launched what they call "Bloomsbury Film Classics"—a series of original novels on which feature films were based. This series includes, for example, Ethel Lina White's novel The Wheel Spins (1936), which Alfred Hitchcock—before he went to Hollywood—turned into a much-loved movie entitled The Lady Vanishes (1938), and Ira Levin's (born 1929) science fiction thriller The Boys from Brazil (1976), which was filmed in 1978.
Older novels can often be retrieved from the ever-growing Project Gutenberg database.
Amelia Reynolds Long ((1904-11-25)November 25, 1904 – (1978-03-26)March 26, 1978) was an American detective fiction writer, novelist, and a pioneer woman writer for the early science fiction magazines of the 1930s. A resident of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, she was the author of a number of science fiction stories, including "A Leak in the Fountain of Youth" and "Scandal in the Fourth Dimension." Her Weird Tales story, "The Thought-Monster," was made into the 1958 British science fiction film Fiend Without a Face. The story sale to the film's producers was brokered by her agent Forrest J Ackerman. She co-wrote the 1936 novel Behind the Evidence with William L. Crawford under the combined pseudonym Peter Reynolds. Some of her stories appeared under the byline "A. R. Long".Anne Perry
Anne Perry (born Juliet Marion Hulme; 28 October 1938) is an English author of historical detective fiction, best known for her Thomas Pitt and William Monk series. In 1954, at the age of fifteen, she was convicted of participating in the murder of her friend's mother. She changed her name after serving her five-year sentence.Barry Award (for crime novels)
The Barry Award is a crime literary prize awarded annually since 1997 by the editors of Deadly Pleasures, an American quarterly publication for crime fiction readers. From 2007-2009 the award was jointly presented with the publication Mystery News. The prize is named after Barry Gardner, an American critic.Note that the "best British crime novel" in this context is best crime fiction novel first published in English in the United Kingdom and does not reflect the author's nationality.Carl Hiaasen
Carl Hiaasen (; born March 12, 1953) is an American writer. A long-time columnist for the Miami Herald and Tribune Content Agency, Hiaasen has also written more than 20 novels which can generally be classified as humorous crime fiction and often feature themes of environmentalism and political corruption in his native Florida.Cecil Day-Lewis
Cecil Day-Lewis (or Day Lewis) (27 April 1904 – 22 May 1972), often writing as C. Day-Lewis, was an Anglo-Irish poet and the Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom from 1968 until his death in 1972. He also wrote mystery stories under the pseudonym of Nicholas Blake.
During World War II, Day-Lewis worked as a publications editor in the Ministry of Information for the UK government, and also served in the Musbury branch of the British Home Guard. He is the father of Sir Daniel Day-Lewis, a noted actor, and Tamasin Day-Lewis, a documentary filmmaker and television chef.Cement shoes
Cement shoes or Chicago overcoat is a largely fictional method of execution and/or body disposal, usually associated with criminals such as the Mafia or gangs. It involves weighting down the victim, who may be dead or alive, with concrete and throwing them into the water in the hope the body will never be found. In the US, the term has become tongue-in-cheek for a threat of death by criminals. Only one real-life case has ever been authenticated.
Cement shoes involve first binding, incapacitating or killing the victim and then placing each foot into a bucket or box, which is then filled with wet concrete. Typically in movies and novels the victim is still alive as they watch the concrete harden, heightening the torture and drama. After the concrete sets, the living victim/corpse is thrown into a river, lake or the ocean. A similar term is cement overcoat or sleep[ing] with the fishes. Although called "cement", it is technically concrete which is a mixture of cement powder, water, and sand or gravel.Crime film
Crime films, in the broadest sense, are a cinematic genre inspired by and analogous to the crime fiction literary genre. Films of this genre generally involve various aspects of crime and its detection. Stylistically, the genre may overlap and combine with many other genres, such as drama or gangster film, but also include comedy, and, in turn, is divided into many sub-genres, such as mystery, suspense or noir.Detective fiction
Detective fiction is a subgenre of crime fiction and mystery fiction in which an investigator or a detective—either professional, amateur or retired—investigates a crime, often murder. The detective genre began around the same time as speculative fiction and other genre fiction in the mid-nineteenth century and has remained extremely popular, particularly in novels. Some of the most famous heroes of detective fiction include C. Auguste Dupin, Sherlock Holmes, and Hercule Poirot. Juvenile stories featuring The Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, and The Boxcar Children have also remained in print for several decades.Eleanor Catton
Eleanor Catton (born 24 September 1985) is a Canadian-born New Zealand author. Her second novel, The Luminaries, won the 2013 Man Booker Prize. In January 2015, she generated controversy in New Zealand when she made comments in an interview in India in which she was critical of "neo-liberal, profit-obsessed, very shallow, very money-hungry politicians who do not care about culture."Gong'an fiction
Gong'an or crime-case fiction (Chinese: 公案小说) is a subgenre of Chinese crime fiction involving government magistrates who solve criminal cases. Gong'an fiction was first appeared in the colloquial stories of Song dynasty. Gong'an fiction was then developed and become one of the most popular fiction styles in Ming and Qing dynasties. The Judge Dee and Judge Bao stories are the best known examples of the genre.Hardboiled
Hardboiled (or hard-boiled) fiction is a literary genre that shares some of its characters and settings with crime fiction (especially detective stories). The genre's typical protagonist is a detective who witnesses the violence of organized crime that flourished during Prohibition (1920–1933) and its aftermath, while dealing with a legal system that has become as corrupt as the organized crime itself. Rendered cynical by this cycle of violence, the detectives of hardboiled fiction are often antiheroes. Notable hardboiled detectives include Philip Marlowe, Mike Hammer, Sam Spade, Lew Archer, and The Continental Op.Karin Bang
Karin Bang (3 December 1928 – 20 August 2017) was a Norwegian poet, novelist, children's writer and crime fiction writer.Legal thriller
The legal thriller is a subgenre of thriller and crime fiction in which the major characters are lawyers and their employees. The system of justice itself is always a major part of these works, at times almost functioning as one of the characters. In this way, the legal system provides the framework for the legal thriller much as the system of modern police work does for the police procedural.
Usually, crusading lawyers become involved in proving their cases (usually their client's innocence of the crime of which he is accused, or the culpability of a corrupt corporation which has covered up its malfeasance until this point) to such an extent that they imperil their own interpersonal relationships and frequently, their own lives.Mario Puzo
Mario Gianluigi Puzo (; October 15, 1920 – July 2, 1999) was an American author, screenwriter and journalist. He is known for his crime novels about the Italian-American mafia, most notably The Godfather (1969), which he later co-adapted into a three-part film saga directed by Francis Ford Coppola. He received the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for the first film in 1972 and Part II in 1974. Puzo also wrote the original screenplay for the 1978 Superman film. His novel The Family was released posthumously in 2001.Mystery fiction
Mystery fiction is a genre of fiction usually involving a mysterious death or a crime to be solved. Often with a closed circle of suspects, each suspect is usually provided with a credible motive and a reasonable opportunity for committing the crime. The central character will often be a detective who eventually solves the mystery by logical deduction from facts presented to the reader. Sometimes mystery books are nonfictional. "Mystery fiction" can be detective stories in which the emphasis is on the puzzle or suspense element and its logical solution such as a whodunit. Mystery fiction can be contrasted with hardboiled detective stories, which focus on action and gritty realism.
Mystery fiction may involve a supernatural mystery where the solution does not have to be logical, and even no crime involved. This usage was common in the pulp magazines of the 1930s and 1940s, where titles such as Dime Mystery, Thrilling Mystery and Spicy Mystery offered what at the time were described as "weird menace" stories—supernatural horror in the vein of Grand Guignol. This contrasted with parallel titles of the same names which contained conventional hardboiled crime fiction. The first use of "mystery" in this sense was by Dime Mystery, which started out as an ordinary crime fiction magazine but switched to "weird menace" during the later part of 1933.Noir fiction
Noir fiction (or roman noir) is a literary genre closely related to hardboiled genre, with a distinction that the protagonist is not a detective, but instead either a victim, a suspect, or a perpetrator. Other common characteristics include a self-destructive protagonist. A typical protagonist of noir fiction is dealing with the legal, political or other system, which is no less corrupt than the perpetrator, by whom the protagonist is either victimized and/or has to victimize others on a daily basis, leading to a lose-lose situation.Rogue literature
Rogue literature is a literary genre that tells stories from the world of thieves and other criminals that was popular in England in the 16th and 17th centuries. The stories were mostly in a confessional form and full of vivid descriptions. Rogue literature is an important source in understanding the everyday life of the ordinary people and their language, and the language of thieves and beggars. This genre can be related to the stories of Robin Hood and jest book literature, as well as early examples of the first voice in fiction and autobiography.The principal authors of such stories were Thomas Harman, Robert Copland, Robert Greene and Thomas Dekker.Thomas Harris
William Thomas Harris III (born September 22, 1940) is an American writer, best known for a series of suspense novels about his most famous character, Hannibal Lecter. The majority of his works have been made into films, the most notable being The Silence of the Lambs, which became only the third film in Academy Awards history to sweep the Oscars in major categories.Whodunit
A whodunit or whodunnit (a colloquial elision of "Who [has] done it?" or "Who did it?") is a complex, plot-driven variety of the detective story in which the puzzle regarding who committed the crime is the main focus. The reader or viewer is provided with the clues from which the identity of the perpetrator may be deduced before the story provides the revelation itself at its climax. The investigation is usually conducted by an eccentric, amateur, or semi-professional detective. This narrative development has been seen as a form of comedy in which order is restored to a threatened social calm.