Although rarely distinguished from the detective story, the crime novel offers readers a quite different experience. In the detective novel, a sympathetic detective figure uses reason and intuition to solve the puzzle, restore order, and reassure readers that "right" will always prevail. In the crime novel, by contrast, the "hero" is either the killer, the victim, a guilty bystander, or someone falsely accused, and the crime may never be satisfactorily solved.
These and other fundamental differences are set out by Tony Hilfer in The Crime Novel, the first book that completely defines and explores this popular genre. Hilfer offers convincing evidence that the crime novel should be regarded as a genre distinct from the detective novel, whose conventions it subverts to develop conventions of its own.
Hilfer provides in-depth analyses of novels by Georges Simenon, Margaret Millar, Patricia Highsmith, and Jim Thompson. He also treats such British novelists as Patrick Hamilton, Shelley Smith, and Marie Belloc Lowndes, as well as the American novelists Cornell Woolrich, John Franklin Bardin, James M. Cain, and Fredric Brown. In addition, he defines the distinctions between the American crime novel and the British, showing how their differences correspond to differences in American and British detective fiction.
This well-written study will appeal to a general audience, as well as teachers and students of detective and mystery fiction. For anyone interested in the genre, it offers valuable suggestions of "what to read next."
Drawing upon the philosophical theories of William James, Dewey, and Mead and focusing upon major works by Whitman, Stein, Howells, Dreiser, and Henry James, Anthony Hilfer explores how these authors have structured their characters' consciousness, their purpose in doing so, and how this presentation controls the reader's moral response. Hilfer contends that there was a significant change in the mode of character presentation in American literature of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The self defined in terms of a Victorian ethic and judged adversely for its departures from that code shifted to the self defined in terms of emotional intensity and judged adversely for its failures of nerve. In the first mode, characters are almost always wrong to yield to desire; in the second, characters are frequently wrong not to and, in fact, are seen less as the sum of their ethical choices than as the process of their longings. His conclusion: modern fiction is as overbalanced toward pathos as Victorian fiction was toward ethos. but the continued dialectic between the two is a tension that ought not be resolved.
In a trenchant critique of the full range of theoretical discourses that have come into favor in literary studies since the 1960s, Tony Hilfer demonstrates that none of the practitioners of these forms of criticism subject their own claims to the kind of suspicious scrutiny that they devote to their own objects of study. Assimilating the critiques that have been made of almost all of the major recent modes of criticism-Marxism, feminism, deconstruction, New Historicism, Foucaultian-Hilfer brings them acutely to bear on his central argument: that these methods systematically fail to live up to their own methodological scruples.
The problem Hilfer identifies is one of logical consistency, but also of moral and psychological implications, and it can be found operating across the whole spectrum of literary Theory. It is, however, as this book makes blindingly clear, not immune from scrutiny. With quiet erudition and consistent incisiveness, Hilfer shows how the various methods, while ostensibly at odds, actually fit together, all sharing the same peculiar structure and logic, and all wearing an identical set of ideological blinders. He offers examples of theorists-and assumptions-hard at work on particular texts, and again and again (often letting these theorists refute themselves) pinpoints the blindspots that have become endemic in the practice of Theory.
Written with great care and a deep commitment to the value and integrity of literary criticism and theory, this tonic work stands as a corrective to the misuse of theory, and a bracing reminder of how a critical approach works when it is well and judiciously applied.