Big Data

Maps on the Backs : Dell Books and the Cartography of Crime

 Hammett homicides Dell

(Click to enlarge)

With thanks to Benoit Tadié

The crime scene map is a  feature commonly associated with  1920’s  Crime Fiction.  Detective novels of the Golden  Age tended to favour the spatial representation of  the mystery to be solved. The maps appended to the novels were data visualisations, as they presented the plot in one  easy (and appealing)  overview. Typically,   a locked room mystery, or a  secluded place mystery  (remote manor, island, lighthouse…) could handily be mapped on one page. Such cartographic paratexts not only accompanied the novel, but often preceding it,  they led into it. They were printed in the first pages of the volume, and at times on the cover itself,  inviting the reader to a symbolic and cognitive journey.  They  helped visualize the information relevant to the solution of the case presented in the book.  But at the same time, as they established a sense of location, they dematerialized it into a projection, and  an abstraction.  They became  thus metaphors of the detective novel as an intellectual construct. Imaginary, simplified spaces, stages for schematic problems, disconnected from referential realities.  This view was further corroborated by Chandler’s dichotomy, distinguishing between  the realistic, gritty, hard-boiled genre, which he and Hammett represented, and the delicate, but ultimately insubstantial, de-realized Mystery genre incarnated by Christie, Carr, Sayers and co.   Associated  with  golden age detective fiction,  maps would then paradoxically seem, from this point of view too,  to indicate less referential substance, rather than more. Continue reading

Edgar Wallace and the Global Thriller

4justposter Walpic

Edgar Wallace (Greenwich, 1875- Beverly Hills, 1932) is probably one of the  crime authors whose academic reappraisal stands to gain the most from the shift in methods and objects advocated in this blog. A sort of consensus  has hitherto prevailed, consigning his books (famously written  over amazingly brief, but sustained, periods of concentration) in the category of  hastily churned out yarns.  Successful, but ultimately forgettable.  Mass market products of their time, which have now become less appealing, and promise little reward to the modern reader. This is certainly very unfair.  One needs only to consider  his books’ capacity to thrill all across the world to be inclined to revise such judgement. Or to reflect on the number of adaptations to the screen (more than 150, making him one of the world leading authors) his novels have received Continue reading

A Wordcloud History of early Crime Fiction

 Poe Morgue

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Edgar Allan POE (1809-1849)  The Murders in the Rue Morgue (Graham’s Magazine, Philadelphia, 1841)

Total of 13,724 words and 2,847 unique words. Most frequent words in the corpus: voice (42), said (35), Dupin(27), house (26), head (24).

Affaire Lerouge

Emile GABORIAU (1836-1873) L’Affaire Lerouge (Le Pays, 1863;   Paris, Dentu, 1866; The Widow Lerouge, 1873)

Total of 123,867 words and 8,792 unique words. Most frequent words in the corpus: said (450), old (443), Sir(351), Noel (311), man (288).

orcival

Emile GABORIAU (1836-1873) Le Crime d’Orcival (1867), The Mystery of Orcival

 Total of 103,639 words and 8,452 unique words. Most frequent words in the corpus: said (532), Lecoq (322), Plantat (307), man (252), know (230) Continue reading

San-Antonio ? San-Antonio ???

CM

San-Antonio is a positive, all-action hero.   His novels, a literature of affirmation. And of exclamations. Not of doubts, it would seem.  On the face of it, the textual reality might be a bit more complex. And a machine, reading the San-Antonio novels, might challenge some of the beliefs and impressions human readers might form, on their basis of their impressionable reading.  There are more questions than exclamations, for one.  Of course, the mystery genre entails consubstantially a fair amount of questions. The narrative tension thrives on hypotheses, conjectures, interrogations and all type of questionings.  The opposition between two crime fiction subgenres,  between, on the one hand, a “hardboiled”, violent, action literature and on the other, a literature of mystery and detection,  is not as clear-cut in this respect. Both subgenres are riddled with questions. Maybe, these questions are more existential, or metaphysical in the “hardboiled”, noir genre, and of more logical, speculative or even academic nature in the Mystery genre. But this  empirical observation, might still need to be addressed and backed up in a more scientific manner. Continue reading

Translating Crime Fiction between the Wars

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(French Translators for Le Masque Series : click to enlarge)

Studying Crime Fiction Series in their cohesion and complexity, rather than works and authors for their originality, presents a radical departure from the type of literary work traditionally done in academia.  Compared with close reading and textual analysis, this seems a more appropriate way to approach the conditions of production of a material culture, and hence, to better understand Crime Fiction. It takes the  observer away from the ideology sacralising the unique and  celebrating the individual, and promotes  the discovery of the collective and relational nature of what we call literature.  It also requires different tools and poses different research questions.  The shift in  focus helps revealing   a series of phenomena and circumstances, as well as an entire population of agents usually falling under the radar of literary research. Such  is the case of the fascinating, yet totally under-researched subject of translators of crime fiction. Continue reading

Heralding the hero, placing the product

Paquet
Strategies of Self-advertising abound in the San-Antonio Series. There are many visual and textual ways in which the eponymous hero is announced, and promoted. This  integration of the product-name works especially as San-Antonio, the author, doubles as San-Antonio, the character. It is as if Chandler novels were signed Marlowe, or Spillane’s, Mike Hammer. As a result, the cover can be the site of a repetition, the repeated name promoting both an author and a text. Like for  a commercial advertisement, there is no fear of echoes and  redundancy of the message. On the contrary, the reiteration of the name reinforces its capacity to influence.

Polka Gones Beru

  Continue reading

Re-order, re-arrange, re-package: the creation of a distinctive Series’s identity.

cauchemar emily (1) manoir     

Gallimard’s ill-fated Série Blême  (1949-1951) is one of the most elegant and attractive Series of Crime Fiction. It is also one of the most  prestigious, and appealing, literarily.  It shows the dedication of the Series’ general editor, in his role as a selector of texts.  Publishing a series is an act of mediation. It involves mediating between authors (carefully chosen on the basis of a set  of objective and subjective criteria) and readers, whose taste the series seeks to educate. In this case, Marcel Duhamel (also the editor of the Série Noire)  was committed to  highlight through this series a literary evolution he saw  within the noir genre.  The evolution from the early Black Mask “hardboiled” stories, driven by the action, to a more subjective, introspective and psychological thriller, the novel of suspense. Continue reading

International Detective Fiction (1927-1966): The Authors

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Mignon Good Eberhart (USA, 1899- 1996)

Crime Fiction is an international genre. It is well-known that several countries have collaborated to its invention. Exchanges  and reciprocal influences between the US (Poe), France (Vidocq, Gaboriau) and England (Wilkie Collins, Conan Doyle), in particular, have been crucial in shaping it in the 19th Century.  Publishers and Magazines have driven the translation of works of  foreign crime fiction, creating international trends and reception patterns.  Publishing industries, in the 20th Century have spread internationally. Continue reading