Category Archives: Kate Grenville

Too Much Information Running Through My Brain*

Part of the reason that people enjoy historical fiction is that it can give really interesting information about a particular time and place. That’s part of why, for many readers, it’s important that their historical fiction be accurate. They want to learn from it, which is hard to do if it’s not realistic.

But that presents a challenge. Even if you don’t read much historical fiction, you probably know that many periods of history haven’t been exactly pleasant. Wars, disease, high infant mortality, lack of hygiene, and plenty of other factors could make life miserable. That’s especially true for those who were poor or otherwise disenfranchised. At the same time as readers of historical fiction want realistic depictions, they may very well not want unrelenting misery. So, what’s the balance? How can an author depict a particular historical period honestly, yet in an engaging way? Everyone has a different idea of what ‘counts’ as the right amount of realism. But here are a few examples of books and series that strike that balance.

Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites is the fictional retelling of the story of Agnes Magnúsdóttir, one of the last people to be executed for murder in Iceland. The novel takes place beginning in 1828, when two farmers, Natan Ketilsson and Pétur Jónsson, are murdered, allegedly by Agnes Magnúsdóttir, Friðrik Sigurðsson, and Sigrídur ‘Sigga’ Gudmondsdóttir. The three suspects are found guilty, and are sentenced to death. It’s decided that, rather than spend the money to keep Agnes housed in a prison, she will be sent to live with District Officer Jón Jónsson, his wife, Margrét, and their two daughters, Steina and Lauga. There, so it’s believed, she will benefit from living with a ‘good Christian family’ for her last months. And the government won’t be responsible for feeding and housing her. The family will benefit, too, from her work. As the story goes on, we slowly get to know Agnes, and we learn about her past, her relationship with the other two convicted of the crime, and their reasons. Throughout the novel, Kent is clear about what life was like at that time, and in that place, especially if you were a woman and a convict. There’s no glossing over. At the same time, the attention is on the story, rather than on every gritty detail.

One could say much the same thing about C.J. Sansom’s Matthew Shardlake series. Shardlake is a lawyer who lives and works in London during the reign of King Henry VIII. It’s a very uncertain time, with religious upheaval, political intrigue, and strained international relations. Life’s not easy for the average person; in fact, it can be quite bleak. And even those with means are not immune from disease, persecution, and more. Against this backdrop, Shardlake has to move very carefully. He knows he works at the pleasure of the king and his advisors. If he does anything to displease them, he risks everything. Sansom doesn’t make light of the grim realities of life at that time. That said, though, the focus is on the mysteries and the plot threads relating to them.

It is in Ariana Franklin/Diana Norman’s Adelia Aguilar series, too. These novels take place in the 12h Century, during the rule of King Henry II. Aguilar is a doctor, originally from the University at Salerno, who is summoned by the king to investigate a murder. Life at this time is grueling, especially for women and other disenfranchised people. In fact, for her own safety, Aguilar has to work ‘behind the scenes’ and pretend that the medical work is done by Simon Menahm – Simon of Naples – who came with her to England. It’s too dangerous for a woman to be involved in medical science. Superstition plays a major role in people’s lives, and that, too, makes life difficult. That’s not to mention the other hardships that people faced at the time. But the focus of these novels is on the cases at hand. It’s not that Franklin/Norman plays down the realities of the times. Rather, the emphasis is on the stories, instead of on the ‘gory details.’

Kate Grenville’s The Secret River tells the story of William Thornhill and his family, who move from London to Sydney 1806, when Thornill is sentenced to transportation for stealing a load of wood. The family makes a new start, with Thornhill earning a living by making deliveries up and down the local river. His wife, Sal, sets up a makeshift pub. Little by little, they settle in. But as they do, they come into increasing conflict with the people who were always there.  That conflict ends in some brutal atrocities. Although Thornhill wants no part of this sort of bloodshed, he soon sees that he’ll have to get his hands dirty if he’s to build a life on the piece of land he dreams of owning. Grenville is realistic about what it was like to be poor in London at that time, and later, what it was like to live in a penal colony. It’s dirty, exhausting, and sometimes very ugly. Lifespans are not long, and disease kills very quickly. That said, though, there isn’t exhaustive detail about the grimness of live. Rather, Grenville’s focus is on the story of how the Thornhill family makes a new life in Australia.

Brian Stoddart’s Superintendent Christian ‘Chris’ Le Fanu novels are set in 1920’s India, mostly in Madras (today’s Chennai). Life’s not really easy, even for the British, who are firmly in charge. It’s much more difficult for anyone else, especially the poor who happen to be Indian. Although there have been some medical advances, there’s still a high mortality rate. As is mentioned in The Pallampur Predicament,
 

‘If there was a scourge left for the British in India, it was illness in many forms.’
 

That said, though, Stoddart’s focus is the mystery at hand in each novel. There’s no glossing over some of the difficulties of life; at the same time, the novels don’t dwell on them.

That’s also arguably true of the work of other authors, such as Sulari Gentill, Gordon Ferris, and Felicity Young. It’s not an easy balance to strike. On the one hand, readers want realistic portrayals. On the other, most readers don’t want unrelenting bleakness. What’s your personal balance? If you’re a writer of historical crime fiction, how do you acknowledge the difficulties of life in other times without letting them overpower your plots?
 

ps. The ‘photo is from Abba Eban’s Heritage: Civilization and the Jews, and was reprinted there from the Bettmann Archives. It shows a tenement in New York’s Lower East Side not long after the turn of the 20th Century.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from the Police’s Too Much Information.

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Filed under Ariana Franklin, Brian Stoddart, C.J. Sansom, Diana Norman, Felicity Young, Gordon Ferris, Hannah Kent, Kate Grenville, Sulari Gentill

Don’t Ask Too Many Questions*

Las Vegas is the sort of place where it’s very easy to be whatever you want, so to speak. People don’t ask a lot of questions; hence, the iconic Vegas catchphrase: what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.

Las Vegas, of course, isn’t the only place or context where people don’t ask questions. There are plenty of places where asking too many questions is considered at best, bad form, and at worst, dangerous. This sort of context – where curiosity is not welcomed – can be a very effective backdrop for a crime novel. We all have secrets that we’d rather no-one ask about, and criminals in particular have things to hide. So it makes sense that they would prefer a context where no-one asks too many questions.

Kate Grenville’s The Secret River isn’t, admittedly, a crime novel per se. But crimes are definitely committed in it. Beginning in 1806, the novel tells the story of William Thornhill, his wife, Sal, and their children. Thornhill is a London bargeman who’s sentenced to transportation to Australia for stealing a load of valuable wood. The family lands in Sydney, which is at the time very much a frontier. It’s the sort of place where questions are discouraged. Most people are trying to start over, and don’t want a lot of discussion about what brought them there and what they’re doing. Thornhill gets a job delivering goods up and down the local waterways; his wife opens a makeshift pub. As time goes by, Thornhill finds a piece of land that he finds irresistible, and decides to claim it for his own. And he’s not alone. Plenty of other new arrivals want land, too. This leads inevitably to conflict and worse with the people who have always been on that land. Some brutal and bloody crimes are committed, and Thornhill wants no part of it, especially at first. But he also comes to see that he’ll have to get his hands dirty, too, if he wants to build the sort of life he wants.

In Megan Abbott’s Die a Little, we are introduced to Pasadena schoolteacher Lora King. She’s particularly close to her older brother, Bill, so she’s concerned when he meets and falls in love with former Hollywood dressmaker’s assistant, Alice Steele. At first, Lora puts her misgivings down to human enough, if not exactly productive, feelings of jealousy and protectiveness, since she is close to her brother. Bill and Alice marry, and Lora tries to be friends with her new sister-in-law. But as time goes by, she gets more and more worried about Alice, and what she finds out repels her. Alice’s former world – or is it really former? – is seamy and dangerous. She knows a lot of the sort of people who don’t welcome questions, and they certainly don’t welcome questions from Lora. At the same time as Lora is repulsed by Alice’s world, she is also drawn to it, though, and this has a real impact on her feelings and choices. Then, there’s a murder. Alice could very well be mixed up in it, too, so Lora decides to protect Bill (or so she tells herself) and find out the truth about what happened. The closer she gets to the truth, the closer she also gets to Alice’s life.

Eva Dolan’s Long Way Home introduces her protagonists, DI Dushan Zigic, and DS Mel Ferreira. They work with the Peterborough Police Hate Crimes Unit, so they’re called in when the body of man is found in a burned-out shed belonging to Paul and Gemma Barlow. The man is identified as an Estonian named Jaan Stepulov, and there’s a good possibility that his murder might be a hate crime. It’s going to be very hard to get answers, though. The immigrant community within which the victim moved is the sort of culture in which no-one asks questions. People often come, work for a while, and leave. Or, they stay longer, have their family join them, and move on. Or, they disappear for whatever reason. But no close ties are formed, and people such as landlords and moneylenders don’t ask any questions. In the end, Zigic and Ferreira find out who killed the victim and why. But they get very little willing help from anyone with whom he interacted.

Malcolm Mackay’s Glasgow trilogy is set mostly in Glasgow’s criminal underworld. It tells the stories of men who kill for hire, and of the people who hire them. It also tells the stories of the victims, and how they get themselves into trouble. One of the important rules among these people is that you don’t ask a lot of questions. You buy your weapons, for instance, from people who won’t ask where the money came from, or how the weapon will be used. You borrow a car from someone who won’t ask why you need it. The more reliable you are at keeping your mouth shut and your curiosity under control, the more you’ll be trusted.

Even between people who are married, there are instances where it’s expected that you don’t ask a lot of questions. For instance, in Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Adventure of the Dancing Men, Sherlock Holmes gets a visit from Hilton Cubitt. It seems that Cubitt’s wife, Elsie, has been acting strangely lately. She’s been getting some cryptic letters lately from America, where she was born, and they have upset her greatly. She won’t tell her husband what the problem is, though, so he’s quite worried about her. They’ve always had the agreement that he would ask her nothing about her life in the US, because she had some unpleasant associations there. As she puts it, she has,
 

‘‘…nothing she need be personally ashamed of,’’
 

but she insists that her past be kept strictly private. And Cubitt has always respected that. But now he’s worried. Then, the same cryptic figures that appeared on the letters begin appearing in chalk on the ledges of the Cubitt home. Holmes works out that the drawings are a code, and that Elsie is being stalked. Then, one night, Cubitt is murdered. Holmes uses the code in the letters to lure the killer and learn the truth.

There are times and places where people don’t welcome a lot of questions. Asking them can get you in a lot of trouble – or worse. Especially in crime fiction.
 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Turin Brakes’ Last Chance.

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Filed under Arthur Conan Doyle, Eva Dolan, Kate Grenville, Malcolm Mackay, Megan Abbott

Just a Little Smile is All it Takes*

nonverbalsWhen most people think of communication, they think of language. But there are plenty of ways in which we communicate non-verbally. Winks, smiles, and of course, that famous one/two-fingered wave, are all examples of the way people send messages without using words. And research shows that we tend to be quite attuned to those non-verbals. In fact, we pay more attention to them than we do to the words people use, or the signs they use, in signed languages.

The police and other investigators know the value of paying attention to non-verbals. That’s how they often get clues as to whether a person is lying. It’s also how they pick up on whether someone is afraid, would like to say more but doesn’t want to, and so on. It’s no wonder, then, that we see those all-important non-verbals in crime fiction.

For instance, in Agatha Christie’s The Mysterious Affair at Styles, John Cavendish invites his old friend, Captain Arthur Hastings, for a visit to his (Cavendish’s) home, Styles Court, in the village of Styles St. Mary. Hastings accepts, happy to renew his acquaintance with Cavendish, his brother Lawrence, and their stepmother, Emily Inglethrop. All is not well with that family, though. Neither Cavendish brother can tolerate Emily’s new husband, Alfred. There are other tensions, too. Still, all goes smoothly enough until the night that Emily is poisoned. There are several suspects with different sorts of motives, but neither Cavendish wants the investigation to be made public. So, when Hastings learns that another old friend, Hercule Poirot, is living in the area, it seems like a very good solution to have him look into the crime. Poirot agrees; Emily Inglethorp was his benefactor, so he feels a sense of obligation. Hastings, of course, tells Poirot everything that he knows about the night of the victim’s death. And one thing he mentions is the ‘ghastly expression’ one the face of one of the characters. Without knowing it, that character has revealed something, and it’s interesting to see how Poirot uses that one non-verbal communication to put one of the pieces of the puzzle in place.

Very often, facial expressions and other non-verbals are important forms of communication when people don’t speak the same language. That can be risky, though, because different cultures have different ways of using non-verbals. For example, in Kate Grenville’s The Secret River, we are introduced to the Thornhill family. In 1806, bargeman William Thornhill is convicted of taking a load of wood. From his perspective, he needed to sell the wood in order to feed his family. There is a certain amount of sympathy for him, so instead of being executed, he is sentenced to transportation to New South Wales. He, his wife, Sal, and their children make the long voyage and start life again in Australia. But it’s not going to be easy. There’ve been people in Australia for many thousands of years, so one major challenge is going to be interacting with them. The Thornhills, and many of the other immigrants, speak English. The Aboriginal people have their own languages. So, verbal communication is limited at best. In fact, Thornhill sees their words as,
 

‘between them like a wall.’
 

When Thornhill does encounter Aborigines, there is an attempt to communicate non-verbally. Pointing, pictures drawn in dust, and holding things out with a hand are some of the ways both sides try to communicate. And in some ways, they’re successful. But that doesn’t prevent tragedy. There’s already been bloodshed as the two groups have clashed. Thornhill himself has no desire for butchery, unlike some of the other settlers. But, he’s expected to support his own. Besides, he’s found a piece of land he truly loves, that’s perfect for him and his family. He soon learns that he’ll have to get his hands bloody, too, if he’s going to keep that land.  

As I mentioned, most non-verbals are culturally contextual. One of those is the wai, which is a Thai greeting. Like the Japanese bow, the wai is nuanced, and, among other things, reflects the relative social status of the people involved in the interaction. It’s got several meanings, too, besides greeting. It’s used in thanks, in apology, in farewells, and in other situations, too. It is a very useful gesture, and communicates quite a lot without a lot of fanfare. To see the wai in action, may I recommend Angela Savage’s Jayne Keeney, PI, novels. Keeney is an Australian ex-pat who’s now based in Bangkok. She’s been there long enough that she’s fluent in Thai, and that includes the non-verbals that are used in that culture. In more than one situation, Keeney finds that that simple-but-nuanced gesture is very helpful in easing tensions and in getting her out of difficult situations. John Burdett’s Sonchai Jitpleecheep novels, and Timothy Hallinan’s ‘Poke’ Rafferty novels also include this simple gesture that can mean so much. A note is in order, too, about the ‘Thai smile,’ which is also woven into these authors’ books. There are dozens of situations in which a smile is used in the Thai culture, and the context often determines what the person who is smiling is communicating. The smile can mean many different things, including, ‘Hello,’ ‘Thank you,’ ‘I’m sorry,’ ‘No harm done,’ and ‘I’m embarrassed.’

As this is posted, pitchers and catchers are reporting to their training camps to get ready for this year’s Major League Baseball season. It won’t be long now, baseball fans! So, as we’re thinking about non-verbals, and what they mean, it’s also worth mentioning Alison Gordon’s series featuring sports writer Katherine ‘Kate’ Henry, who works for the Toronto Planet. She follows baseball most especially, and Gordon’s novels often feature scenes from games, where pitchers, catchers, coaches and batters often communicate without using any words at all. Henry is thoroughly familiar with what those non-verbals mean, as was her creator, and it’s interesting to see how that knowledge comes through in Henry’s writing and in the stories.

Whether we’re aware of it or not, we do communicate a great deal through facial expressions, eye contact (or lack of it) and other non-verbal means. When detectives pay attention to those messages, they can learn a lot. And it’s always interesting to see how people use non-verbals, especially when they can’t, or don’t choose to, use spoken language.

 

ps. The ‘photo is of Raymond Teller, one half of the famous illusionist duo, Penn and Teller. If you’ve seen these guys in action, you’ll know that Teller doesn’t speak during the show. Instead, he uses non-verbals to get his meaning across, and he’s quite good at it, too. If you’re reading this, Mr. Teller, Happy Birthday!

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Billy Joel’s Everybody Loves You Now.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Alison Gordon, Angela Savage, John Burdett, Kate Grenville, Timothy Hallinan

In The Spotlight: Kate Grenville’s The Secret River

SpotlightHello, All,

Welcome to another edition of In The Spotlight. As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, plenty of novels don’t fit squarely into only one genre category. And there are many literary novels that can easily be considered crime novels (and vice versa). This may make it harder to classify novels for marketing and other purposes. But it certainly can add to the richness and diversity of what’s available. Let’s take a look at one such novel today, and turn the spotlight on Kate Grenville’s The Secret River.

The real action in the story begins in 1806. William Thornhill is a poor bargeman who can barely feed his family. One day, he succumbs to temptation when he gets the opportunity to take a load of wood – cargo that he can sell. He’s caught, and at first, it’s assumed that he’ll be executed. Instead, he’s sentenced to transportation to Australia.

Thornhill, his wife, Sal, and their children board the Alexander and are taken to Sydney Harbour. The Thornhills arrive, and right away, have to find ways to make a living. Thornhill soon finds work with Alexander King, who hires him to transport casks filled with liquid refreshment out of Sydney Cove and into a nearby bay, where they will escape the attention of customs inspectors. For her part, Sal opens a makeshift pub, and the family manages to make a living.

Of course, there’ve been people living on this land for many thousands of years. So, it’s not long before there’s tension between the new arrivals and the Aborigines. Still, things generally seem calm. Before long, Thornhill gets a job delivering goods for a man named Thomas Blackwell, who owns the River Queen. He learns to navigate the Hawkesbury River, and as he does, he begins to see some of the ugly side of interactions between the colonists and the people who’ve always been there. He tries to stay out of it all, but that’s well nigh impossible.

Then, Thornhill finds exactly the piece of land he’s been dreaming of, right by the river. Sal’s not eager to leave Sydney, where she’s gotten settled in. But she agrees to go along with the plan. This, of course, will bring the family into direct conflict with the Aborigines. As settlement continues, there are, indeed, confrontations between the new arrivals and the Aborigines, and some terrible crimes are committed. As a white man, Thornhill is expected to support his fellow colonists. But he has no desire for butchery. Still, he’s found the land he wants more than anything else. As he, Sal, and their children begin to build their new home, Thornhill sees that, if he’s going to hold onto the land he’s come to love, he’ll have to get his hands bloody, too. In the end, the Thornhills claim their land and build their home – but at a terrible cost.

This novel is historical fiction. The action takes place in the first decades of the 19th Century, and Grenville places the reader in that era. There are marked differences among the social classes, and this story’s focus is mostly those who are in the lower social strata. Life in London is a struggle for survival if one doesn’t have money, and it’s not really any easier in Sydney. Still, the Thornhills discover that in Australia, a person can get land, build a good house, and have what most people call success even without an expensive education or the ‘right’ family name. In essence, Grenville shows, through one family’s experience (rather than through ‘information dump’) what colonial life was like in Australia. Grenville also places the reader geographically. The story takes place in both London and New South Wales, and Grenville uses the details of each to contrast them.

One of the most important elements in the novel is the vast set of differences between the Aboriginal people and the Europeans. The two groups have very different cultures, traditions, ways of looking at land use, and so on. So, right from the beginning of the novel, there’s a foretaste of the ugliness that will arise. And, as the novel moves on, the suspense builds as the two sides encounter each other.  There are serious crimes committed, and Grenville doesn’t gloss over them. Readers who dislike violence will notice this.

The relations between the Europeans and the Aborigines are complicated, and Grenville acknowledges that, too. And because of this complexity, there is some moral ambiguity in the novel. Thornhill, for instance, is not a mindless brute. He has no desire for bloodshed. And he’s not the only one. Plenty of people on both sides would like to work out some reasonable way for the two groups to co-exist. But there are also many people on both sides who are willing to go to extremes, including real brutality. And even people, such as Thornhill, who would just as soon avoid bloodshed, find that they are drawn into it anyway. In this way, Grenville shows how violence can spiral out of control.

Another, related, aspect of the novel has to do with law enforcement. This is the early 1800s, and there isn’t really a regular police force in New South Wales. There’s much more of what people often call ‘frontier justice.’ It’s vigilantism, but it stands in for the professional police forces of some other places. This is important, because it impacts the way the characters behave. One can’t call the police when there’s a perceived threat, so people defend themselves. They also band together when there’s trouble. On the one hand, that has tragic consequences. On the other, people help one another, and that creates a sense of community.

The Secret River is the story of one family whose history reflects some of the larger events of the day. It features complex issues of cultural contact and confrontation that leads to crime, as well as moral dilemmas. And it takes place in distinct London and colonial New South Wales settings. But what’s your view? Have you read The Secret River? What elements do you see in it?

 
 
 

Coming Up On In The Spotlight

 

Monday, 5 December/Tuesday, 6 December – The Rim of the Pit  – Hake Talbot

Monday, 12 December/Tuesday, 13 December – Cop Town – Karin Slaughter

Monday, 19 December/Tuesday, 20 December – We Are the Hanged Man – Douglas Lindsay

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Filed under Kate Grenville, The Secret River

To Make Two Things One, You’ve Got to Mix Them*

genre-mixingAn interesting comment exchange with Cleo at Cleopatra Loves Books has got me thinking about books that cross genre lines. Cleo suggested that there may be more of those sorts of books and series than there were, and that’s certainly a good possibility.

Of course, there’s an argument that there’s always been literature in several genres that could ‘count’ as crime fiction. Shakespeare’s plays, for instance, contain many of the elements of a crime story. There’s murder, greed, theft, betrayal, and a lot more. The same goes for lots of other classic reading, too.

But Cleo’s right that there are plenty of examples of contemporary novels and series that cross genre lines. For instance, Jane Casey is perhaps best known for her Maeve Kerrigan crime series. But she is also the author of a YA series featuring Jess Tennant. The series begins with How to Fall, in which Jess and her mother move from London to her mother’s home town of Port Sentinel after a difficult divorce from Jess’ father. On the one hand, this is a YA series, and it’s marketed towards that audience. On the other hand, it’s also a crime series. In How to Fall, Jess uncovers the truth about her cousin’s death a year earlier. At the time, it was put down to suicide, but Jess soon learns that there’s another explanation. There are plenty of other YA series, too, that are also crime fiction. I know that you could name more than I could.

Ben Winters’ The Last Policeman is the first in a trilogy that follows police officer Hank Palace. In the story, he investigates a murder that looks like a suicide (but isn’t). So, in that sense, it’s very much a crime novel. There’s a murder, there’s an investigation, and so on. But as fans of these books know, this is also considered science fiction. The context for the novel is that an asteroid will strike the earth in the next few months. As scientists study the event to try to determine its severity, the world’s social and economic structures start to fall apart. This plays a role, too, in the plot. For that reason, plenty of people consider this dystopia fiction. It’s an interesting blend of the traditions of different genres.

So is Charles Stross’ Rule 34. On one level, it’s a crime novel. Edinburgh DI Liz Kavanaugh and her team investigate when the body of ex-convict and Internet spammer Michael Blair is discovered. Eventually, this murder is linked to other murders of Internet spammers in different locations in the world. But this is also a speculative/science fiction novel. It takes place in the relatively near future, but in a sort of alternate future, where there’s some technologies that we don’t currently have. There are other differences, too, between Kavanaugh’s world and the one we know. And the solution to the mystery is more characteristic of a speculative novel than it is of a traditional detective novel. Does that make it less of a crime novel? Speaking strictly for me, I don’t think so. It’s more of a blend of those genres.

There are also plenty of historical novels that cross the line between history and crime fiction. For instance, Kate Grenville’s The Secret River tells the story of the Thornhill family, who move from London to Sydney in the early 1800s, after William Thornhill is sentenced to transportation. The novel follows the Thornhills as they arrive in the new land, find ways to make a living, and get accustomed to the many differences between London and New South Wales. In that sense, it’s very much historical fiction. So are The Lieutenant and Sarah Thornhill, the other novels in Grenville’s trilogy about life in colonial Australia. But these novels also have elements of crime fiction in them. There are violent deaths, dark secrets from the past, and intrigue, among other things. The same sort of thing might be said for Hilary Mantel’s novels Wolf Hall, Bring Up the Bodies and the forthcoming The Mirror and the Light. They are historical novels, but they also arguably cross genre lines, so that they can also be considered crime fiction.

As I mentioned earlier, there’s a long tradition of literary work that also has elements of crime fiction. There’s plenty of contemporary literary fiction like that, too. For instance, John Hart’s The Last Child concerns the disappearance of Alyssa Merrimon, who was twelve years old when she went missing. No trace of her was ever found, and it’s devastated the family. Detective Clyde Hunt was assigned to the case, and is haunted by the fact that he hasn’t been able to get the answers that the Merrimon family needs in order to move on. Alyssa’s twin, Johnny, hasn’t given up on finding out the truth. And he’s got a map and a plan. As you can see, the novel has the elements of crime fiction. But it’s also a literary novel. There’s deep character exploration, a focus on the relationships involved, and a strong sense of the small-town North Caroline setting. Certainly, many people consider this a literary novel as well as a crime novel. The same might be said for books such as William Kent Krueger’s Ordinary Grace. That’s literary coming-of-age novel that also has a crime story woven through it.

It’s not easy to blend genres. The author has to manipulate the traditions of more than one genre, as well as keep the focus on the plot and characters. It can be tricky to do that and create a cohesive story. But genre-blended stories can also be innovative, and can enhance more than one genre.  Which have you enjoyed?

Thanks, Cleo, for the inspiration! Now, folks, treat yourselves to a visit to Cleo’s excellent blog. You’ll find fine reviews and interesting crime-fictional discussion there.
 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Cornelius Grant and Smokey Robinson’s You’ve Got to Earn It 

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Filed under Ben Winters, Charles Stross, Hilary Mantel, Jane Casey, John Hart, Kate Grenville, William Kent Krueger