RARA-AVIS: Fables of the Deconstruction

From: Kevin Burton Smith ( kvnsmith@colba.net)
Date: 26 May 2000

Bill Hagen wrote:

>The book is Priscilla L. Walton and Manina Jones' _Detective Agency: Women
>Rewriting the Hard-Boiled Tradition_ (U. Calif. Press, 1999).
>"The authors of the present volume explore how women writers, positioning
>professional female detectives in the world of contemporary crime, have
>reimagined the hard-boiled novel, challenging not only the patriarchal
>culture that defines these fictional worlds but the linguistic,
>intellectual, and narrative paradigms that traditionally have shaped the
>genre. ...focuses on leading writers such as Paretsky, Grafton, and Muller
>while considering an ample range of titles by other practitioners. ...[it]
>provides a deft analysis of the political and economic role of the genre's
>readership. ...the engaging prose will draw in undergraduate and general
>readers as well as scholars. Highly recommended."
>There you have it, including a reference to "readership" (Who, us?).
>Anyone looked at this book?

Man, what's worse? Blurb writers or academics?

The answer, it seems, might be blurb writers for a book written by academics.

As for this book in particular, I seem to remember a couple of reviews in Canadian papers (Walton and Jones are Canadian). I think the mystery columnist in The Globe and Mail gave it a positive mention, but certainly nothing like a rave. And Lisa Appignanesi, a mystery writer herself, reviewed it in The National Post. However, she basically used the book review as a springboard for her own quickie interpretation (or was it a summary?) of the topic, and ended up revealing some of her own misunderstandings (or maybe the authors?) of non-female P.I.s. In the end, she concludes that the book "fails to explore...why so many of these spirited dicks have run out of steam." Now, that's a really good question.

Certainly, at this point, some sort of overview of the rise (and possible fall) of the lady dick would seem in order, but this book may not be it. Like most scholarly stabs at the genre (think Woody Haut, for example), the book sounds like it might be interesting and offer up some food for thought. But, then again, judging from some of Appignanesi's comments and the blurb itself, it might also be just another misguided scholarly tome with a nice cover, full of evidence willfully ignored or spin-doctored to fit a particular thesis, fobbed off on us yobs in the general public.

Kevin Burton Smith The Thrilling Detective Web Site http://www.colba.net/~kvnsmith/thrillingdetective/

An A&E Mystery.com Site of the Week, but don't let that discourage you.

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