chapter  5
26 Pages

The inverstigators

A new type of fiction appeared during the 1980s, lesbian crime, in which sexy superdykes strode the city streets in their steel-capped DMs, swinging their double-headed axe, slayed patriarchs in their wake. Almost all the novels present the figure of a woman on the cover, foregrounding the lone heroine against a darkened building, a synecdochal city. Can the mythically misogynistic monological male hard-boiled detective be transformed by a lesbian-feminist reading? Two archetypal traits lend the potential. First, he is a crusader, traditionally representing and reasserting with moral certitude the status quo, a redemptive figure, single-handedly stemming the tide of chaos. His morality of unequivocal self-assertion reflects the cult of individualism reified by Thatcherism and Reaganism. Aspects of feminism too were characterized by these same tendencies of evangelistic salvation (‘I was an unhappy heterosexual until I found Women’), tempered, in the late 1980s, with a re-emphasis on discovery of ‘self and subjectivity. Second, the detective hero is an outlaw, and here the parallel with lesbianism is clear. He is alone, isolated, on the edge, an observer, not a participator. This motif of lesbian identity has been imposed and internalized ever since The Well of Loneliness (1928), occasionally transformed by an inversion which endows lesbians with a superior vantage point from which to analyse the vagaries of institutionalized heterosexuality. So, the detective hero exhibits a paradox: he is at once a representative of society and a critique of it.