chapter  8
12 Pages

Crime fiction: the genre dimension

What does it mean to speak of crime fiction? Many stories include criminal activity in their material: Oedipus the King, Crime and Punishment, Little Dorrit and Scarlet and Black are just a few; yet none of them would normally be called 'crime fiction'. A story is usually labelled a crime story when it is clear that the portrayal of criminal activity is absolutely central to the nature of the story. As we have seen in the previous chapter, one of the ways of understanding genre is in terms of some 'dominant procedure' that is responsible for the way in which the text as a whole unfolds. A clear example of this is the classic English detective story, where the entire story is concerned with the elucidation of a criminal mystery: whodunit? Once the identity of the murderer is known the story finishes. In my Thrillers (1978) (summarised in chapter 7) I argued that this procedure (somewhat extended) could be used as the basis of an account of crime fiction in general.