With violence all around us, what does it really mean for a book to be a mystery novel? ‹ Literary Center
Literary disco launches a new format with a new “Genre Season”. Each episode of this season, we’ll dive deep into a particular literary genre, explore what defines it, what makes it work or not, interview authors, talk to fans, scholars, anyone who can help us unlock what it’s what makes a genre a genre.
With our second episode, Julia, Rider and Tod find a body, a clue or two, maybe even a little justice, as they undoubtedly face darkness and the human heart while speaking of crime. This week, their special guests are private detective Lee Lofland, author of Police procedure and investigation: a guide for writers; Melissa Chadburn, author of A little push up; and writer Ross Angelella.
Why there are fewer crime novels these days:
Rider: It’s always about doing justice. Law and order is probably the best example of this, the soothing message that someone is fighting for justice for America and the world and they are going to catch the killer or the criminal and bring them to justice. That’s a big part of the crime genre, making us feel better about the world, that something is being fixed.
Someone pointed out to me that the private investigator, as opposed to police procedure, is about police corruption.
Rider: Okay, because the idea is that it’s a failure of the police to be able to do their job, so there has to be a private investigator there to save the day or serve justice, which is not obviously not always the case.
Julia: Others may serve justice more creatively.
Todd: It’s impossible for us to ignore, you know, the elephant in the room, which is that we live in a time where, because of technology, we’ve seen the failure of police work. From Rodney King to George Floyd and then everything beyond that point where too often if you’re a black man and you’re pulled over by a cop for what you’re pulled over for, there’s has a real chance that you’ll die.
It also changed the way books are written. I mean, you see a lot less detective stories, a lot less police procedurals, because I think there’s an inherent disbelief in police goodness right now. The cops have a lot of work to do to win back the public’s trust, but I think what you see because of that too, in fiction, is a broader examination of the social reasons why crime is committed.
So it’s not enough that a crime has been committed and a cop or a detective or whatever comes out and tries to solve it. I think we want to know now why this shit is happening. Why do people do what they do? It’s not just about needing money to buy drugs. There is something larger culturally and socially that has changed the nature of crime.
Melissa Chadburn on how crime stories never end:
Melissa Chadburn: What do you do when something like [a murder close to home] arrived? Can you figure out how it happened to make you feel better? What else can you do to make the world a better place?
I must have clouded my ideas of prison justice, too. I don’t think anyone is locked up and it’s over, which is normally the trajectory of a thriller or a true crime, or a podcast. You try to figure out what happened and then the person goes to jail and it’s not over, really. He had about 200 guns in his house and was super pro-NRA. And a lot of those guns weren’t the kind you should be able to own. That sounded a lot more interesting to me than the story that he got drunk and shot his wife, you know. The end of the story was not about this person and his wife. For me, it felt like there was a bigger instrument here.
Ross Angelella on dealing with his own crime through writing:
Ross Angelella: For a long time… after the robbery, I remember feeling resentful that I wasn’t shot.
Todd: Your own survivor’s guilt of sorts, you know what I mean?
Ross Angelella: And so in dealing with that through writing, that’s where this divide happened between me playing all the wild stuff on the page and trying to tell a story that was going to shock you versus telling a story that was going to move.
Todd: That’s the key to fiction, right? The difference between shocking you and moving you.
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