Cornell Woolrich, The black path of fear, The Crime Club, Doubleday, Doran, 1944
The Big data approach and instruments, which inform this blog, do not only allow to study globally a population of popular writers who, in an international effort and over many decades invented Crime fiction. It also helps to envision the books they produced in a material way, in their condition as objects, commodities and fetishes. The juxtaposition of hundreds of book covers from different countries reveals their semiotics, with their recurring motifs and their serial patterns. Books covers can thus be read as sites where developments in international cultural industries, the specialisation of narrative genres, the publishers’ distinctive strategies and the evolution of popular representations and tastes all intersect. The available metadata linked with each cover also recalls that Crime Fiction series fostered some of the past century’s greatest artists. This post displays a very short selection of some Crime Fiction cover art, as milestones in a cultural history of the international imagination of crime, and its visualisation.
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Edgar Allan Poe (1 occurrence)
Based on publicly accessible data and the names of 67105 French Schools (public and private, and at all levels) it shows, without surprise, that many of these schools (some of them 200 years old) chose the name of a writer. But there are great disparities between writers, and the data tells about the omission of Crime fiction authors. It indicates an apparent stigma attached to this specific type of authorship, as Crime authors fare considerably less well than other, even much lesser known authors. Edgar Poe, admitttedly not a French author is named only once. Gaboriau, the author of the first crime novel, zero. Victor Hugo, by contrast (who invented with his inspector Javert a very memorable policeman, but definitely not considered a crime author) had his name chosen by 365 schools. It is more than surprising that some of the most read, most popular and internationally famous French authors (such as Gaston Leroux, the author of the Phantom of the Opera) don’t seem to have been deemed worthy of such distinction. When will a French school be named after him, one of France’s more gifted writers? Or after Eugène Sue, or Frédéric Dard ?
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Rufus King, Holiday Homicide (Dell 22)
Dell books paperback comprised different populargenres, from the Western to the adventure and the sentimental novel. But half or more of them were crime fiction. The maps on their backs merges visually all these genres. After all, the four of them can, to an extent, rely diegetically, figuratively or at least metaphorically on sketches and raw drawings (Treasure island map, carte du tendre, maps of a crime scene or croquis for a heist). More than 250 Dell Books Mapbacks were actually Crime scenes. Crime Scenes without crime, without traces of violence, and almost always without people. A pure material and geographical world. Put all together, they display a great sense of continuity, attributable to the unity of style and colours in the work of artist Ruth Belew (who, according to Gary Lovisi, drew more than 150 of them). The wild, unruly, imaginary space of Crime Fiction looks here tamed, domesticated. Pleasant, harmonious, and perfectly defined squares look like the parts of a puzzle. A puzzle reassuring both in its nature as a game, and for its apparent completeness (although it would be interesting to inspect the spaces, states, counties and countries which are not represented). Continue reading
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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).
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).
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
The Ullstein Verlag, founded in Berlin in 1877, was one of the most active and successful agents on the market of entertainment publications in Germany. One year after Le Masque in France, and one year before Mondadori, in Italy, it too launched a series of yellow mass market Crime Fiction books : Ullstein Gelbe Reihe was started in 1928. Continue reading
(With thanks to Philippe Aurousseau, & Courtesy of Oncle-Archibald.blogspot.fr)
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.
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 !
The following visualisations were generated using Google NGrams, as part of the M.A class on “Big Data and the New Humanities”at QUB (ICRH, PFC 2 018, December, 5th)