RARA-AVIS: Re: "Best American Mystery Stories 2009"

From: jacquesdebierue (jacquesdebierue@yahoo.com)
Date: 11 Nov 2009

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    The only "mystery" is why the adjective "mystery" continues to be applied to what should be more properly called "crime fiction". Donald Westlake wrote lots of crime fiction but very few mysteries. What is the mystery in a Parker or Dortmunder novel? And in most of James Ellroy's novels? And in most if not all of Jim Thompson's? How about Lawrence Block's Keller stories? As far as I can recall, Block only wrote mysteries in his PI series. Joe Gores's novels don't always involve much mystery -- some are simply tales of revenge. We know what happened, who did it, and we read in order to see what happens after that.

    These days, "mystery" covers a lot of grounds, even including having a mystery in the story, but the mystery element is not what defines the genre.

    So I think it's just a different use of the word that is causing the problem, not the genre or the choices of some editors.

    What is at the heart of this is a fallacy, namely, that there is a core called the Golden Age Mystery (the "real" stuff) and everything else is a perversion of it. That was the ridiculous position of John Dickson Carr, for example. He didn't seem to get (or at least to accept) the fact that times change and so do genres, even if the same name is kept. Even "cozies" have changed considerably. Some of them are not really all that "cozy".

    A lot of what I wrote is only a footnote to Chandler's essay _The Simple Art of Murder_. He wrote the book on this, so to speak.

    To be continued, perhaps.


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