Crime fiction has often been accused of indulging in the clichés of the dangerous and the endangered woman – the femme fatale, the female victim. The degree to which such generalisations oversimplify the genre is apparent if one reads the steadily growing number of women crime writers who, from the 1940s on, have created subtle, diverse explorations of a great range of female protagonists – from damaged children and wilful teenagers to deceived partners, oppressed housewives, guilty mothers, tough businesswomen. Increasingly in the twenty-first century, psychological thrillers have given readers a chance to enter into the subjective perceptions of non-stereotypical women in ways that subvert and reappropriate some of the most familiar and time-honoured generic conventions.
Our focus here is on teen-centred crime fiction. Some of the most highly regarded contemporary female crime writers have written compellingly about teenage experience – Megan Abbott, Laura Lippman, Tana French. They represent transgression, resistance to constraints on female agency, dawning sexuality, and, above all, female friendship – being best friends and also, of course, betraying and destroying those friendships. Amongst recent novels, two of the outstanding examples of teen-centred psychological thrillers are Megan Abbott’s The Fever and Tana French’s The Secret Place. Read our reviews of Megan Abbott and Tana French.
Editors’ Choice: reviews of Christobel Kent, The Crooked House; D.D. Johnston, The Secret Baby Room; Paula Hawkins, The Girl on the Train; and Liane Moriarty, The Last Anniversary
A mark of good crime fiction is that readers can intensely experience the spaces through which the characters move or in which they are trapped. Whether they are in urban mean streets or small towns, buildings are more than background or setting. They can generate the fears and desires that drive characters to commit crimes; they conceal secrets and retain the impress of crimes committed; protagonists may dread to enter them or feel a false sense of security when they lock the doors. Three excellent recent crime novels construct gripping narratives that centre on the manifold ways in which buildings are perceived, experienced and remembered. In Christobel Kent’s atmospheric novel, The Crooked House, the house of the title is a gothic embodiment of past terrors, containing the lost narrative of a murdered family; in D. D. Johnston’s forthcoming The Secret Baby Room, an almost equally gothic building, a derelict tower block, summons up the protagonist’s worst fears; and in Paula Hawkins’ tense thriller, The Girl on the Train, what we’re led to reflect on is the deceptive uniformity, the apparent interchangeability of suburban houses, so blank that it is easy to miss their role in concealing disastrous and violent acts. Also reviewed is a novel first published a few years ago (2006), Liane Moriarty’s The Last Anniversary, a playful, enthralling mix of romance and mystery, in which houses stimulate desire and feed the imaginative hunger for enigmas. Read our reviews of Christobel Kent, D.D. Johnston, Paula Hawkins, and Liane Moriarty.
Editors’ Choice: reviews of Lauren Beukes, Broken Monsters; Lynn Kostoff, Words to Die For; and Paul Johnston, The Black List
The noir thriller has proven itself capable of powerfully depicting the breakdown of society and the human consequences of political evils, lies and betrayals. Contemporary urban disintegration, violence and economic collapse are at the heart of Lauren Beukes’ complex novel, Broken Monsters. Equally fascinating – and equally relevant to the political experiences of our own time – are two pieces of historical noir, both of which anatomise the treacherous political decisions, the crimes, guilts and corrosive allegiances of earlier eras. Lynn Kostoff’s Words to Die For, set in the deregulated corporate world of the Reagan era, plays out at an individual level its compromises and cynical deceptions; Paul Johnston’s The Black Life, which partly takes place in modern-day Greece, also encompasses the horrors of Nazism and the holocaust. All three novels stand out in my recent reading and exemplify the best qualities of the outward-looking crime story, which, as Andrew Pepper argues (Unwilling Executioner, forthcoming from OUP), “remains the most politically-minded of all the literary genres.” Read our reviews of Lauren Beukes, Lynn Kostoff’ and Paul Johnston.
CRIMEFEST: the international crime fiction convention
14 – 17 May 2015, Bristol, UK – With more than fifty events spanning four days, and the participation of close to 140 authors from around the world, CRIMEFEST may well be the UK’s biggest crime fiction convention! The CRIMEFEST PROGRAMME is now up on the website.
Orange is the New Black and New Perspectives on the Women in Prison Genre
5 June 2015, Edinburgh Napier University – Please follow this link to register: http://store.napier.ac.uk/browse/department.asp?compid=1&modid=1&deptid=24
Nordicana 2015: Nordic Noir & Beyond
6 – 7 June 2015, Roxy theatre, London – Addicts of Nordic crime dramas will be able to get their fix at the Roxy theatre in London for the 3rd Nordicana festival. The event promises a plethora of top talent from internationally famed writers to the brightest stars of film and television. Sofie Gråbøl, detective Sarah Lund in The Killing, is the first confirmed headlining guest. For the first time ever, Nordicana will also be recognising other top European shows influenced by the Nordic style. For more information visit the Nordicana website.
James Ellroy: Visions of Noir
1 – 3 July 2015, University of Liverpool – The conference will examine Ellroy’s influence on the genre, his inspirations as a writer and his achievements in forging an idiosyncratic and unique style. The keynote speaker is journalist and critic Woody Haut. In addition, there will be an event with distinguished crime novelist and lawyer Martin Edwards who will be discussing his new book, The Golden Age of Murder. Conference webpage: https://www.liv.ac.uk/english/our-events/ellroy/
Women, Narrative and Crime: An Interdisciplinary Conference
9th July 2015, Teesside University (Darlington Campus) – Keynote Speakers: Deborah Jermyn (Roehampton) & Lizzie Seal (Sussex). This interdisciplinary conference will bring to together researchers and practitioners from the arts, humanities and socials sciences to explore questions of narrative and crime in relation to violence against women, as well as addressing themes relating to women, crime and justice more broadly. See http://www.tees.ac.uk/sections/whats_on/events_details.cfm?event_id=7297