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Crime Scenes

Detective Narratives in European Culture since 1945


Edited by Anne Mullen and Emer O'Beirne

The essays in this collection are based on papers given at a conference on detective fiction in European culture, held at the University of Exeter in September 1997. The range of topics covered is designed to show not only the presence and variety of narratives of detection across different European countries and their different media (although there is a predictable emphasis on the novel). It also illustrates the fertility of the genre, its openness to a spectrum of readings with different emphases, formal as well as thematic.
Approaches to detective fiction have often tended to confine them-selves to ‘symptomatic’ interpretation, where details of the fictional world represented are used to diagnose a specific set of social preoccupations and priorities operative at the time of writing. Such approaches can yield valuable insights. Nonetheless there is a risk of limiting the value of the genre as a whole solely to its role as a mirror held up to society. In this perspective, issues of structure and style are sidelined, or, if addressed, are praised to the extent that they approach invisibility — concision, spareness, realism are the qualities singled out for praise. The genre also gives much scope for formal innovation — and indeed has often attracted already established ‘mainstream’ writers and filmmakers for just this reason.
The eclectic diversity of the detective narratives considered in this volume reveal the malleability of the traditional constraints of the genre. The essays bear rich testimony to the value of considering the interplay of thematic and structural issues, even in the most apparently unselfconscious and popular (or populist) forms of narrative. The patterns of reassurance, the triumph of intellect and the ordered, rational world ‘of old’ are now challenged by the need to foreground the problems, ambiguities and uncertainties of the self and of society. The plurality of meanings and the antithetical imperatives explored in these detective narratives confirm that the most recent forms of the genre are not mere palimpsests of their ‘golden age’ precursors. The subversion of traditional expectations and the implementation of diverse stylistic devices take the genre beyond mere homage and pastiche. The role of the reader/spectator and critic in conferring meaning is a crucial one.

Kathryn Prince

voice, pull in different directions partly because of this mediation. ‘These narratives’, Fitzpatrick argues, ‘must be read as palimpsests, engraved by authors whose exegeses are in dialogical relation to each other’. 53 Between the lines of the ‘socially and theologically conservative lesson’ that

Sandra Weems and Tom Bragg

– and divine reward – ‘The soldier dying dies upon a kiss, / The very kiss of Christ’ (Meynell, ‘Summer in England, 1914’, lines 31–32). 66 The battlefields themselves became ‘visceral commemorative monuments’, sacred sites of pilgrimage, palimpsestic in their combination of industrial and natural

David G. Frier

versions of history, but also noting that even Nora himself concedes the survival of multiple different memories into the present (Legg 2004: 494), while de Certeau (and others) who have examined space in terms of palimpsestic views of history lay stress on the importance of individual subjectivity