John Martin began his talk by explaining that crime fiction began with ‘The Murders in the Rue Morgue’ published in 1841. This short story by Edgar Allan Poe was the first to feature a murder and a detective. Since then crime fiction has become a wide-ranging genre, and occupies a large part of the fiction section in libraries.
Fictional detective Sherlock Holmes first appeared in Arthur Conan Doyle’s A Study in Scarlet in 1887. The Holmes novels dominated crime fiction until 1920 when Agatha Christie began her decades of publishing with The Mysterious Affair at Styles.
We heard how Christie introduced new concepts in crime fiction: the unreliable narrator in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd; a female detective, Miss Marple, in The Murder at the Vicarage; and multiple murders in Murder on the Orient Express. Other well-known writers of the ‘Golden Years’ include Leslie Charteris (Enter the Saint) and George Simenon (The Crime of Inspector Maigret).
Raymond Chandler, Ian Fleming and Alistair Maclean are among the ‘Big Names’ from the forties and fifties. Fleming’s James Bond novels are a variant on the crime novel with the action being played out on an international level. Ruth Rendall, John Le Carre, and Colin Dexter are some of the prominent crime writers of the sixties and seventies, and their popularity was boosted by the advent of the ‘TV Years’ which saw a huge increase in television adaptations of crime novels.
Crime fiction continues to evolve, and John Martin ended his comprehensive talk by outlining the most recent developments. Stieg Larsson and Jo Nesbo are the most well-known of the Scandinavian crime writers. ‘Domestic Noir, a term first used in relation to fiction by Julia Crouch, includes Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn and The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins.
About the reviewer
Karen Powell is studying for a PhD in Creative Writing at the University of Leicester. Her poetry has been published in various anthologies and magazines including Welcome to Leicester: poems about the city, The Interpreter’s House and Silver Birch Press.