Day: March 14, 2015

Question Marks over Crime Fiction

Ferenczi RP

(With thanks to Philippe Aurousseau, & Courtesy of

Aptly and obviously for a genre identified with the resolution of an enigma, Detective novels have often been marketed  with big interrogation marks on their covers.  One of the earliest Crime Fiction Series, Ferenczi’s  booklets “Le petit roman policier”  was recognizable for the question mark adorning its covers designed by Gil Baer.


Later, two well-known French Crime Fiction series at least were named “The Question Mark”.

1/ The Editions Pierre Laffitte’s series “Le Point d’interrogation” was published in Paris from 1932 and until 1937. This series was devoted almost entirely to Gaston Leroux and Maurice Leblanc.


Laffite Laffite1

2/ The Hachette Series “Le Point d’Interrogation”  was published between 1951 and 1965.




Countless more  series and stand alone crime fiction books used visual references to question marks. If you know about such series or book covers from your own countries and in any languages, please let us know about them !

Leroux Laffite


Death-driven Series : a quick comparison


(click to enlarge)

The three leading series of Crime Fiction  which were launched  in France after the war are :  “La Série Noire” (Gallimard, 1945-) ; “Un Mystère” (Presses de la Cité, 1949-1972) and “Spécial-Police” (Fleuve Noir,1949-1987).  This post sets out to compare them  visually, on the basis of their most frequently recurring title words. No translation needed.  (I think ?)

The following representation is based on the most frequent words in  the titles of all the books published in each series. The size of the words represented here is proportional to their total amount of occurrences in the titles.

Série Noire, Paris,  Gallimard, 2743 Titles (between 1945- and 2005)


Un Mystère, Paris, Presses de la Cité, 769 titles (first serie :1949-1966 )


Spécial-Police, Paris, Fleuve Noir, 2075 titles (1949-1987)


Profiling Crime Fiction Series


The question this post  tries to  answer visually is twofold, and runs  as follows.  Is it possible, first,  to visualise the denotations and connotations carried in the  titles of crime Fiction series ? What are the words most frequently used ? And what are the emotions, atmospheres and tropes suggested already by the titles, on the threshold of the books ?  What are the most common elements forming part of the contractual promise contained in a title ?  Which ones seem to be recurring the most often? And second, do such patterns vary from series to series, reinforcing their distinctive identities?  Can one, after  listing  the literal meanings of the words most frequently used in their titles,  and the emotions associated with them,  determine the series’ s profiles ? In practice,  is it for example  possible to compare the three longest French Crime Fictions series (totaling almost 7000 books between them),  based only on the words most used in their titles ? Can one try to “profile” Crime series, on the basis  of the terms  through which the authors, and the series’ s editors choose to market the books ?  And which are the words which are more apt at representing each of the three series? The  three following pie charts reflect the frequencies of  six  heavily connoted and intuitively chosen words for each of the three series. Continue reading