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Saturday, May 15, 2021

Crime Novel Detective Types

     In traditional hard-boiled crime fiction, if the hero is a police officer, he'll be the departmental maverick, too honest and decent to engage in office politics yet laser-focused on nailing the perp. Often there's a murdered relative, almost always female, to juice this crusader's motivation. His marriage will have fallen apart because he's too stoic and too devoted to the job to sustain a real relationship. But he'll be devoted to his kid and is a one-woman romantic at heart, even if hardly anybody ever gets near his heart. He'll brood a lot and go home alone. He'll have a temper but a righteous one. He might drink too much or be too ready with his fists, but that just makes him a bit of an antihero, that familiar figure from cable TV dramas.

     It's all getting awfully predictable, which may explain why this reader can't bear to finish yet another novel about such a hero. I've found, instead that the crime novels I open with the keenest anticipation these days are almost always by women. These are books that trespass the established boundaries of the genre by lingering over characters who used to serve as mere furniture in the old-style hard-boiled fiction. They may dare not to offer a solution to every mystery or to have their sleuths arrive at those solutions by non-rational means. Their prose ranges from the matter-of-fact to the intoxicating, and the battlefields they depict are not the sleazy nightclubs, back alleys, diners and shabby offices of the archetypal detective novel, but a far more intimate and treacherous terrain: family, marriage, friendship.

Laura Miller, salon.com, September 7, 2014 


  1. Do you agree with Laura Miller, Jim? I find crime thrillers that are essentially one long car-case (even if no cars involved) to be boring and usually steer themselves into the Land of Unbelievability. Yet, it's a problem for female writers, since so many readers of this genre are men and prefer books by male authors. As a writer, this worries me (vweisfeld.com/?p=3767), but I'm heartened when I find an excellent new voice, like Becky Masterman's debut "Rage Against the Dying" (review: vweisfeld.com/?p=3969). Thanks for posting Miller's thought-provoking essay.

  2. I don't necessarily agree with this post, but I have found that crime novels written by women are often more interesting. Probably has more to do with writing style than gender, but I do think sometimes it stems from the woman's perspective. That may, however, be because I am a man