Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Mysteries versus crime novels

Following up on last night's post Jeff Pierce wrote:

I guess I don't understand the difference between crime fiction and mysteries. Are mysteries defined by the fact that the reader doesn't know who did it, while readers of crime fiction do?

Just wondering.

Jeff P.

Ed here: I guess my so-called friend had two parts to his agenda. One was to tell me without telling me that he thought that I wrote trash. And two that he felt that crime novels were superior because they were "serious." He mentioned George V. Higgins as his exemplar.

To me Higgins was brilliant--none better--for four or five books but then he started taking his reviews seriously and gave up telling stories. His last books may have been "serious" but they were boring as hell. I believe he even wrote a piece disdaining "plot."

I further guess what he was talking about were the books his group finds "acceptable." Crime fiction is just as trendy as any other kind of fiction. You show your worth by waving a copy of a crime novel that the hoitiest and toitiest of Acceptable Critics have praised. I'm not sure that he understood that crime fiction--the street fiction popular today--can also contain a mystery. Look at Walter Mosley's novels about LA in the Fifties.

So I'm assuming here that he just misspoke and was confused about mystery vs. crime. He apparently sees all mysteries as the sort lending libraries dispensed in the Twenties, Thirties and Forties. You now, the novels no major publisher would touch. He wants books that are taken more seriously than most mysteries.

As I said last night you read what gives you pleasure.

And I still have a shelf-full of Rex Stouts and A.A. Fairs so there.


Todd Mason said...

I've understood the term "crime fiction" to cover any kind of fiction involving crime, since I first started using it as a term fifteen or twenty years ago--mysteries, suspense fiction, any sort of espionage fiction, Penzler's proviso of any fiction involving crime, all fit for me. It doesn't imply any greater pretense of literary value than mystery does...for me, anyway. Your non-friend's distinction simply struck me as a blatant display of ignorance, along the lines of "the mysteries I like are literature, the ones I don't are trash." Though, of course, the crime fictions _I_ like tend to be literature, and the ones I don't are as well, just not as good.

Deb said...

I agree--I just don't see where the dividing line is. After all, in almost every mystery there has to be a crime; and in crime novels, even in the most hard-boiled, there's usually some sort of mystery at the heart of the story. Possibly there's a divide in tone: many "cozies" are considered mysteries, while "grittier" novels are considered crime books. But anyway you look at it, the division is arbitrary.

I just enjoy reading a good, well-plotted, interesting book. I don't care about "genre."

MP said...

All mysteries are crime novels. Not all crime novels are mysteries. Would that work?