RARA-AVIS: Re:Crime thrillers and adventure

From: JIM DOHERTY ( jimdohertyjr@yahoo.com)
Date: 24 Jun 2007


Re your questions below:

"I am currently compiling bibliographies of the fiction British 'library' publishers. As part of this I would like to categorise the fiction
- by the categories we use in the library here - crime, adventure, romance etc. To do this I need to get something clear in my mind and hope that someone can help me do so. Is there some definite boundary between crime and adventure? Adventure novels can involve crimes, but what makes it an adventure rather than a crime novel?"

An adventure novel, for me at least, is a novel that that's about adventure but doesn't fit into another defined genre. I don't know if libraries have a
"western" category in the UK, as they normally do over here, but I'm going to assume that they do. Virtually all westerns are adventure novels, but you wouldn't classify them as adventure novels because there's already a category they fit into.

Simlarly, many, perhaps most, science fiction novels, many, perhaps most fantasy novels, and quite a few romance novels, are adventure novels, but there are already categories into which you can place a science fiction novel, a fantasy novel, a romance novel, etc, whether or not it's an adventure novel.

Similarly, many mysteries, and virtually all hard-boiled mysteries, can be classified as "adventure novels." Indeed, Chandler once defined the hard-boiled detective story as "the hero's adventure in the search for hidden truth," and defined the hard-boiled hero as "a man fit for adventure."

Crime fiction covers, and always HAS covered, a fairly broad range of stories. Just look at the wide variety of novels that have won the CWA's Dagger Awards over the years. Everything from traditional puzzles (what we often call "cozies" on this side of the pond, and probably on yours, too) to gritty police procedurals, to private eye novels, to spy thrillers. And all of them are usually categorized as "mysteries" in American libraries, and, I assume, are usually categorized as "crime" in UK libraries.

To me, when I think of an adventure novel, one that isn't already identified with another genre, I think of writers like Edgar Rice Burroughs, Patrick O'Brien, C.S. Forester, Rafael Sabatini, Alexandre Dumas, etc. There is "crime" in all of their novels, in the sense that there is usually a "bad guy," a villain for the hero to oppose. But they don't write novels that are readily identified with crime.

"And where does a thriller fit in this?"

The best definition of a thriller that I've seen is a mystery (crime, suspense, detetive, whatever you want to call it) story in which the main emphasis is on action, pace, suspense, etc, rather than on cerebration. Crime writers like Dick Francis, Adam Hall, Mickey Spillane, John Buchan, Gayle Lynds, Tom Clancy, etc, have all been described as "thriller writers."

So the short answer to your question is yes, a book defined as a "thriller" almost always falls into the wider category of "crime novel," as that category is broadly defined.

Hope that helps.


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