Re: RARA-AVIS: crime/anti-crime (was long post on spillane)

From: Peedie Monk (
Date: 25 May 2002

----- Original Message ----- From: "Randy Schultz" <>
> I have always felt there are two types of stories in the 'thriller' genre
> (which, to me, includes HB crime fiction, spy fiction, and the like).
> 1. The type of mystery where the plot is the star, and the characters are
> merely ways of moving the plot along (Many Christie novels fall into this
> category -- they are more like puzzles, rather than stories).
> 2. The type of mystery where the protagonist is the star and the plot is
> merely a way to show the protagonist expressing his/her rather unique
> viewpoint/language/thoughts/feelings. I would put Hammer in this
> category, as I would Chandler, Hammet, Jim Thompson. The fun of the story
> is in the telling, not in the plotting.

Russell James pointed out something in an interview a few years ago and I've never been able to look at crime fiction the same way since. Like yourself, he stated that there are two categories. He called them "crime" and
"anti-crime". And there's some crossover between his classification and yours. Basically, his theory goes, most so-called crime novels are
"anti-crime" novels. In other words, solving the crime is paramount (police procedurals and PI novels, for example). "Crime" novels, on the other hand, are written from the viewpoint of the criminal or victim (gangster novels, Woolrich, Cain, Goodis, Thompson, Brewer, Russell James), whose plight is paramount. In this category, policemen or detectives only feature as peripheral figures, if they feature at all.

What intrigued me about this was that, although I read both types, I immediately realised I had a preference towards the "crime" category, and that these were almost all what I thought of as "noir". The "anti-crime" category, on the other hand, was almost all what I considered hardboiled. I'd always suspected a preference for something that I loosely defined as noir without being able to be precise as to what that meant. "Dark and sinister" didn't work. For example, Stark's Parker novels, which I like a lot, aren't "dark and sinister" (to my mind they're "tough and colloquial"). But they fit in the "crime" category. So, for me, whether a book is hardboiled or noir tells me less than if it's "crime" or "anti-crime".

Sorry if this is totally transparent to everybody else, but it was one of those revelations to me where I just went, "Of course. Duh!"

Al Guthrie

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