This post was intended as a private note, that would serve me as a guide for my forthcoming reading plans. But I thought it might be of some interest to make it public. Regretfully, it will be late for the coming Conference, but better late than never as the Spanish saying goes. Stay tuned.
Bodies From The Library returns with a new Conference this year. The Conference will celebrate the Golden Age of Detective Fiction and will be of interest to fans of Agatha Christie and her contemporaries – Ngaio Marsh, Dorothy L Sayers, John Dickson Carr, Margery Allingham, the Detection Club -and also to those wanting to discover forgotten authors from the period.
2021 Suggested Reading
- Howdunit: A Masterclass in Crime Writing by Members of the Detection Club – editor Martin Edwards (currently reading)
- When Last I Died – Gladys Mitchell
- The Rising of The Moon – Gladys Mitchell
- The Saltmarsh Murders – Gladys Mitchell
- The Mystery Of The Peacock’s Eye – Brian Flynn
- The Murders Near Mapleton – Brian Flynn
- Murder en Route – Brian Flynn
- The Fortescue Candle – Brian Flynn
- Tread Softly – Brian Flynn
- The Grindle Nightmare* – Q. Patrick
- Black Widow** – Patrick Quentin
- Death’s Old Sweet Song* – Jonathan Stagge
- The Cases of Lieutenant Timothy Trant – Q. Patrick
- Hunt in the Dark and Other Deadly Pursuits***
*Not currently in print in the UK but available in USA
** Not currently in print
*** To be published in 2021 by Crippen & Landru
In addition to essays, anthologies, a detective novel (Diferentes razones tiene la muerte) and two collections of detective stories (Detente, sombra and Muerte a la zaga), María Elvira Bermúdez (1912, 1916? – 1988) devoted her time to write and theorise on detective fiction. She wrote Ensayo sobre la novela policial (1947), one of the aspects of her oeuvre that has interested me most. Unfortunately Ensayo is not easy to find. However, I managed to find her article “Qué es lo policiaco en la narrativa” (Estudios 10, otoño 1987), on the internet, that I found really interesting. (Source: María Elvira Bermúdez, “Qué es lo policiaco en la narrativa”, ESTUDIOS, filosofía-historia-letras, ITAM, otoño de 1987. Consultado el 13 de mayo 2021. http://estudios.itam.mx/sites/default/files/estudiositammx/files/010/000170339.pdf)
In this article she begins stating that, due to different reasons (mainly various forms of publicity and other promotion phenomena), there are numerous terms used to name the stories belonging to the detective genre. This leads to confusion. To avoid it, it is necessary to have an idea of the different aspects by which the literature at hand has developed.
- The traditional novel, classic (in a broad sense), of enigma or mystery, it is characterised by all the elements with which its creators endowed it. Besides those already mentioned [among them: Edgar Allan Poe (1809 – 1848), Wilkie Collins (1824 – 1889), Émile Gaboriau (1832 – 1873), Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859 – 1930), R. Austin Freeman (1862 – 1943), Maurice Leblanc (1864 – 1941), G. K. Chesterton (1874 – 1936), and Agatha Christie (1890 – 1976)], the English, Michael Innes, Anthony Berkeley, Nicholas Blake and Dorothy L. Sayers. The north Americans S. S. Van Dine, Mary Roberts Rinehart, Rex Stout, John Dickson Carr and Ellery Queen; the Belgian George Simenon; and the Argentineans Jorge Luis Borges and Adolfo Bioy Casares.
- The action novel, in principle opposed as ‘American school’ to the English enigma, in essence it only differs from the traditional in the features: A) the setting, rather than a limited or confined space, is a city; B) the detective is violent, rough, more than a reasoning person and; C) the adventure (action) dominates in the plot. The main representatives of this modality are Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, North Americans.
- The thriller which amounts to an involution of the former because the enigma decreases in favour of the adventure: the detective has become more violent and womanizing and, at the same time, incredibly invulnerable and because to the overstatement of violence is added the excess in eroticism and language. In the United States, Mike Spillane has been the best known example of thriller. Leslie Charteris, who invented ‘the Saint’ and Ian Fleming, who gave life to James Bond, can also be considered within this variant, although the latter also plays an important role in another kind, that is:
- The spy novel in which, in general terms, as in westerns, Manichaeism is predominant, the enigma has almost been roll over by the tumultuous action and the characteristics of the hero reach already those of a superman. However, there are spy novels of good quality, such as those by John Le Carré.
- There is another kind of detective novel that has not been sufficiently diversified so far. It can be found among those novels qualified in the United States as crime and among us as suspense. They do not answer the question, whodunit? but rather how and why? The crime is focused through the offender or the suspect in other cases. One of the most frequent motives in this kind, that can be called criminological, is that of frustrated alibi. Psychology plays a predominant role here; suspense is a primary factor and the denouements use to be surprising. Outstanding authors of criminological novels and stories are: William Irish, James M. Cain, Patricia Highsmith, and the French Boileau and Narcejac.
- Lately the word “negra” (noir) has circulated in Mexico applied to the detective novel and with it is alludes, the same to which really belongs to the field of the narrative that we are dealing with, than to the terrifying novel, direct descendant of the English Gothic in which, among others, excelled Horace Walpole (The Castle of Otranto), Ann Radcliffe (The Mysteries of Udolpho) and Mathew Lewis (The Monk). It was in Spain, and later in Argentina, where not long ago this connotation began to be given to the detective novel based, above all, on its content: despite the fact that the detective genre already had a clear axiological background: “justice for all, rich as well as poor “, thanks to a process of ideological origin, a fragrant message of ‘social criticism’ began to be seen in some novels and thus, action novels, criminology, thrillers and others were sheltered under the same roof: novela o género negro (noir genre). This genre was also made to pop up besides as a healthy reaction against the stiffness of the traditional novel; but at the end of the day what it is fought in the classic novel is that, according to the followers of the noir, it is a product of capitalism, an expression of the bourgeoisie. Other factors that have contributed to spread the term noir for detective fiction, such as the close link between film noir on the one hand, action films and thrillers on the other; and the book series that some publishers have released on to the market (Bruguera and Barral for example) under the heading of ‘novela negra’ (noir fiction). Within what properly deserves this title (noir), that is cultivated mainly in Spain and from time to time in some Latin American countries, the thriller has predominated over the detective fiction and crime, among other things, in my opinion, because that implies a much less effort to construct a plot with an appearance of detective fiction. Contrary to what might have been expected of the “new” social criticism of which famous Hispanics boast today, far from offering solutions for a change in the community, the contribution of noir fiction (novela negra) to literature has become, in most cases, a complete denial of values, when not in an overflow of violence and sexism.
(My free translation)