RARA-AVIS: Re: RIP John Gardner

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


Re your comment below:

"I've been reading stories lately that are set among African refugees. Not sure that it applies to what I've read but it set me wondering about dark and sinister and even non-transcendent stories set in locals without benefit of the rule of law. Without the formality of a law to break, without the technicality of a crime, could such stories be considered noir?"

"Crime," in the sense of crime fiction, has never hinged, of necessity, on the breaking of a formal statute, per se, but on audience perceptions of what a crime is.

Hence, a story about the investigation of a murder in a hypothetical country in which murder is not illegal would still be a crime story.

For that matter, a book built around an act that IS technically a legal violation might NOT be a crime novel, if the act doesn't fit into audience perceptions of what constitute a crime.

For example, few would categorize Herman Wouk's great WW2 military novel, THE CAINE MUTINY, as a crime story, notwithstanding its well-remembered courtroom sequence near the end.

The reason? Because the "crime" in question doesn't fit the definition of crime in the average reader's perception. Defying one's boss mght get you fired in the civilian world, but it won't get you put on trial for your life.

On the other hand, a novel about the investigation of a murder onboard a naval vessel (or, as in Clancy's THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER, about the identification of a KGB mole on a naval vessel) WOULD be regarded as a crime novel, not because murder or espionage violate the Uniform Code of Military Justice (though they do), but because the average reader regards murder and/or espionage as the stuff of crime novels.

And if it can be a crime novel, it can, given the right treatment, be a hard-boiled or noir crime novel.


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