Friday, January 23, 2009

Crime Fiction? To Kill a Mockingbird?

The Guardian is publishing a series called 1000 Novels Everyone Should Read.  I almost didn't read it; my "to be read" list is so long already I fear I'll never get through it.  The last thing I need is 1000 more novels on the list.  Or even, charitably allowing myself to believe I've read at least a quarter of these 1000 novels, seven hundred and fifty more novels.

But I couldn't resist. 

The list of Crime Novels is divided into three parts.  Teach313 will be happy to see that Trent's Last Case  is listed in Part One.  I'm not sure of the exact definition of "Crime Novel" -- it seems that the Guardian is taking the broadest view and categorizing a novel as a crime novel if the plot involves a crime.  The list, thus, encompasses mysteries and thrillers and spy novels.  It also includes some odd choices. 


According to the Introduction (which uses the Humpty Dumpty story as an example):

The classic mystery story is about a crime already committed, a past event the investigation has to reconstruct. A thriller involves a future threat to Humpty [Dumpty]— an enemy's plan must be stopped. A thriller's thrills are frequent, whereas a crime writer can get away with one corpse. It's obvious which genres the Agatha Christie whodunnit and the 007 spy novel belong to, but between them are sub-genres — courtroom duel, psychological thriller, suspense novel, crime caper, criminal-centred fiction — not so easily classified.

Crime-centered fiction is a fairly broad category that I can go along with as a general matter. But then I found To Kill a Mockingbird on the Part Two list.  To Kill a Mockingbird is a Crime Novel?  Well, there is an alleged crime in it.  A black man is accused of raping a white woman.  And the reader does discover the truth of the matter.  There is a courtroom scene, but it isn't really presented as a duel.  More like a slaughter.  Is it a crime novel because it is "crime centered?"   I wouldn't think so. The center, I think, is the coming of age story not the story of the crime.  Am I wrong?  Or is The Guardian wrong?  What do you classify as a Crime Novel?

By the way, here is the link to  Part Three so that you have them all.