RARA-AVIS: Artifice, tradition, and all that jazz.

From: Marianne Macdonald ( marianne.macdonald@lineone.net)
Date: 23 Feb 2003

On Saturday, February 22, 2003, at 11:52 PM, RARA-AVIS Digest wrote:

But I have to wonder if the cozy really is any more
"artificial" than most hardboiled?

Yes, whatever the genre, writing for it is imitative to some degree, which could be said to be "artificial.

In some senses, all crime fiction tends to the artificial: that is, if "artificial" is the opposite of "realistic".

Corner a British PI and ask him how many murders he's investigated, and he will probably look at you with both pity and resignation.

  Corner a British policeman in a line at the cash desk of a supermarket (or "in the queue at Tesco's", if you want the English translation of that, and I did - I have no shame) and ask him how many non-domestic murders his area has dealt with in the past six months, and he will probably scratch his head and try to remember. All right, so US statistics will allow you to multiply his "maybe two" by 40 IIRC. But we're talking "cozy" (an American term) or

I don't find Golden-Age traditional writing essentially class-conscious, I must admit, although it certainly does seem more so to us when we read it nowadays. And it isn't particularly class-critical. It tends to deal with what you could generally define as "domestic" crime. A friend of mine recently pointed out that cozies are mannered novels that question the rights to authority of "superior", titled classes. In their private lives, in their drawing rooms and on their estates Lord & Lady Whatsis, Colonel Mustard etc. were as corrupt and capable of murder as the
"criminal" classes.
"Mannered" certainly (and WHY do contemporary non-Brits try to write these things? - pause for my usual cursing on the subject of the idiocies of G, G and Z). But don't forget that (a) the butler did it, or possibly a fiendish Oriental; and (b) the intelligent, perceptive and successful detective is also a member of the gentry, unlike the thick policeman who trudges along behind him or her, making mistakes and managing to confuse everything. Duh. (You know who I mean.) Yes, yes, of course there is a frisson at seeing chaos break into the pampered and orderly lives of the rich, but so there is anywhere in the world. That's what crime fiction is: the investigation of a disruption to order.

If anybody would like to find out what happens when a contemporary working class author writes crime fiction out of her personal experience, you might have a look at one of Martina Coles's best sellers.

Frankly, I'm unrepentant in fixing the origins of American hb in the language of certain writers from Twain to Hemingway, and the cultural themes of the Western.

> Perhaps it takes it back into matters of class. In order to have the
> spare time to solve murders, the amateurs must be of the leisure class.
> However, the pros are not even going to get involved unless they are
> paid. They are doing a job. This requires more practicality on the
> part of the detectives. It makes them working stiffs, easier to
> identify with for most, particularly American, readers, and gives
> them a
> real (at least real within the confines of the genre) reason for
> becoming involved with a corpse. Even though it is a cliche for PIs to
> finish the job, even after being fired, they would not be on the job in
> thte first place if they had not been hired. In addition, the
> professionalism makes it more believable that the detectives would have
> the skills and knowledge needed to solve crimes.

Good points, Mark


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