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
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.