Here we take a brief look at the working definition of what crime fiction is: Crime fiction is the genre of fiction that deals with crimes, their detection, criminals, and their motives. Most - though not all - crime novels crime novels share a common structure. First there is the crime, usually a murder; then there is the investigation; and finally the outcome or judgement, often in the shape of the criminal's arrest or death.

Crime is usually distinguished from mainstream fiction and other genres such as science fiction or historical fiction, but boundaries can be, and indeed are, blurred. The genre's flexibility is perhaps one reason for its wide and enduring appeal and means different things to different people at different times. Unlike some literary fiction, the crime novel retains many of the time-honoured techniques of fiction character, theme, narrative, tension, etc

There is now such a huge variety within the genre, it also has several sub-genres, including detective fiction (including the classic whodunnit), legal thriller, courtroom drama, hard-boiled fiction, Police Procedurals, Private Eye, Suspense, Thrillers and any other sub-genre in which a committed crime is the leading motivator of the plot. Indeed There are novels where the hero is the criminal not the detective.

All one can with any certainty is that the label "crime fiction" is a resilient convenience for those who use it, not an exact term.

Brief History of Crime Fiction

Looking at the history of crime fiction as a serious genre, crime fiction didn't begun to be considered until around 1900.

Crime fiction generally started in 1841 with the publication of Edgar Allan Poe's story 'The Murders in the Rue Morgue'. From there it gradually spread over the United States, Great Britain and France. By the turn of the century crime fiction was generally acknowledged as a new and special kind of literature.

The position of the most famous crime fiction author in this brief history must surely be Arthur Conan Doyle 1880 - 1920 (a medical practitioner from Edinburgh) who invented Sherlock Holmes. The Sherlock Holmes mysteries are said to have been singularly responsible for the huge popularity in this 'locked room mysteries' genre. The evolution of locked room mysteries was one of the landmarks in the history of crime fiction.

Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories first appeared in serial form in the monthly Strand magazine in Britain. 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.

Equally as important in the history of the crime fiction genre was Agatha Christie(1890-1976) who was born in Devon and educated at home, studying singing and piano in Paris.

Agatha served as a Voluntary Aid Detachment nurse in Torquay during WW1, and worked in the dispensary of University College Hospital, London, during WW2. Her best known detectives are Hercule Poirot, Jane Marple and Mr. Parker Pyne.

The evolution of the print mass media in Britain and America in the latter half of the 19th century was crucial in popularising crime fiction and related genres. © 2012 Steve Bennett
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