Punctuating Crime Fiction: a Comparison of 6886 Titles

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 (Total number  of titles with exclamation marks, by series)

The following pie charts represent the  varied use of three types of punctuation signs in the titles of  all the novels published in the three longest series of Crime Fiction in France : Le Masque (Librairie des Champs-Elysées), La Série Noire (Gallimard), and Spécial-Police (Fleuve Noir).  While the amount of books published in all three series is roughly comparable (all three series have published more than 2000 books each), there are manifest discrepancies in their use of punctuation marks.

The Série Noire, with 261 exclamations marks (more than one in every ten titles) shouts obviously the loudest. The publisher makes the emphasis on strong feelings a distinctive element of its literary identity. Fittingly for a series identified with the hardboiled genre, titles are heavily accented.

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Conversely, and again, not really surprisingly, “Le Masque” Series,  a series historically identified with the Mystery novel  (and whose narration, accordingly, offers its readers to solve an enigma) is more prone to use interrogation marks, and has more titles featuring them than its competitors.

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The opposition  between the two publishers, which are frequently constructed as antagonistic and certainly represent different poles of the field of Crime Fiction seems perfectly  encapsulated in their respective preference for the question mark or for the exclamation.

The use of suspension marks is more equally distributed  between them. The Spécial-Police series,  yet again, comes last : often criticised for its blatant research of effects  ( materialised in the lurid illustrations on the book covers) it appears, rather surprisingly as the one exercising the greatest restraint in its use of punctuation.

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Finally, to summarize, the  respective value of each punctuation mark across the three series looks thus, showing a large advantage of the exclamation mark over both the others, and actually representing more occurrences than the others together.  The interesting fact that crime fiction, in France, in the 20th Century represents itself less with question marks and more with signs of affirmation, and interjection, certainly deserves to be commented more fully upon.

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