Re: RARA-AVIS: Bastard child

From: Mark Sullivan (
Date: 24 Feb 2004

Kerry wrote:

"That's a pretty thin edge, the difference between crime fiction and fiction with crime. I understand what you're getting at and I can see where such a difference would be useful, but is there a percentage or possibly a word count I can use as a reliable reference?"

I've got the same question, Kerry. I do see a distinction between the two, but I'd be surprised if there would be any more agreement on where the line is drawn than on the reasons for drawing the line there (for me, it's entirely intuitive). It seems this shades into our recent discussion about whether a distinction is to be drawn between crime fiction and literature. For instance, James Crumley wrote the following blurb for Ken Bruen's The Guards: "It's so good I can't think of it as a crime novel. It's a fine book with some crimes."

What the hell? If it's good it can't be a crime novel? (Says a lot about Crumley doesn't it, why he often seems somewhat embarrassed about writing PI novels while working on his "big Texas novel"?) About a quarter of the way through, I'd say The Guards is good and a crime novel.

And many of the reviews of Pelecanos's last few books have taken great pains to separate them from crime fiction, placing them within the tradition of social realism. They can't be both? All I know is that if I were looking for one of his novels, I'd look in the mystery section.

What is an author's point of view on this? Jim (Sallis, lotta Jims
'round these parts) you are often reviewed in this way. Do you think of your Lew Griffin series as crime novels? If not, are you offended (or surprised) if others do? You're also a reviewer -- do you think about this question when writing about other authors, say Chester Himes?


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