golden age of crime

October 5, 2019

Every so often somebody reprises Edmund Wilson’s famous put-down of detective novels, ‘Who Cares Who Killed Roger Ackroyd?’ Wilson regarded the genre as terminally subliterary, either an addiction or a harmless vice on a par with crossword puzzles. The mention of Wilson is a rhetorical balloon that the writer will promptly pop. For the truth is that for every Edmund Wilson who resists the genre, there are dozens of intellectuals who have embraced it wholeheartedly. The enduring highbrow appeal of the detective novel and its close cousin, the spy thriller, is one of the literary marvels of the century. How to account for the genre’s popularity? And what does it tell us about ourselves?

Though the so-called golden age of crime, the age of Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple, Ellery Queen and Nick and Nora Charles, has gone the way of transatlantic cruises and after-dinner port, the books in which these detectives figure have maintained their enthusiastic readership. Other more recent works amply demonstrate the range and vitality of mystery fiction. The 1980s saw the emergence of Elmore Leonard and P. D. James, of Sue Grafton and Sara Paretsky, of the sort of enigmatic metaphysical thrillers that Paul Auster writes, and of a brand of detective writing that seemed to blend feminism and the hard-boiled American tradition. In the 1990s Quentin Tarantino’s movie Pulp Fiction (1994) stands at one extreme of diction and Tom Stoppard’s espionage drama Hapgood (1994) at the other. The resurgence of interest in pulp writers and noir movies of the 1940s and ‘50s has gained a new audience for such formerly overlooked writers as Charles Williams (The Hot Spot, 1953) and Charles Willeford (Pick-up, 1955), David Goodis (Street of No Return, 1954) and Jim Thompson (After Dark, My Sweet, 1955). Many of these novels are available in spiffy new editions, such as the Black Lizard series published by Vintage, and indeed Robert Polito’s excellent two-volume Library of America edition of Crime Novels (1997) bestows something resembling canonical status on Thompson, Goodis, Willeford, Patricia Highsmith, Kenneth Fearing, and others who had seemed precisely unassimilable into a literary canon.

David Lehman
The Mysterious Romance of Murder

its icy, black depths

May 16, 2019

Beware the dark pool at the bottom of our hearts. In its icy, black depths dwell strange and twisted creatures it is best not to disturb.

Sue Grafton
I is for Innocent


August 16, 2016


“Ghosts don’t haunt us. That’s not how it works. They’re present among us because we won’t let go of them.”

“I don’t believe in ghosts,” I said, faintly.

“Some people can’t see the colour red. That doesn’t mean it isn’t there,” she replied.”

Sue Grafton
M is for Malice

Thrusting Thursday…

January 21, 2016

Beware the dark pool at the bottom of our hearts. In its icy, black depths dwell strange and twisted creatures it is best not to disturb.

Sue Grafton

I is for Innocent



Such a little word for such a hard thing and yet it can make things so simple, unless you break it. Like glass.

Fragile on certain points with enough pressure ore carelessness, but if handled correctly, it’s useful, clear, sharp, and perfect.

That’s what I will try to think about, whenever the Beast in me is not in agreement with what I am doing, or how I am behaving, when it threatens to break free, through that very same glass that separates us.

I need to be exactly like this window: smooth, cool, strong, and impenetrable.

D.S. Wrights
The Beast In Me


“You know what I’m going to cut off you next, lover…?”

Women had always existed: they had lived, a species to themselves, with the demons. But they had wanted playmates: and together they had made men. What an error, what a cataclysmic miscalculation.

Clive Barker, Books of Blood : Volume 2

A woman isn’t a whore for wanting pleasure. If it were unnatural, we would not be born with such drives.

Nenia Campbell
Bound to Accept