CrimeFest blogfest II: What's traditional about a traditional mystery?
What's traditional about a traditional mystery? If you'd asked me a few weeks ago, I might have said traditional = cozy = prominent role for old dear = village or country-house setting = knitting = cute animals.
Then I read what Ruth Dudley Edwards had to say on the subject. In the United States, she writes on her Web site, "the distinction is made between cosies and hard-boiled, terms which are unknown here except to the cognoscenti. I am definitely in the cosy league – what Reg Hill, who is there too, calls ‘the Jane Austen end of the crime writing spectrum’."
One always knew that Britain had Christie and the U.S. had Chandler and that the dichotomy might have echoes to this day. Still, having just read Edwards' The English School of Murder, I was surprised to see the author place herself in the cozy league. The novel, after all, is set almost entirely in London, and it includes passing and not-so-passing references to drug use, homosexuality, menages-a-trois and any number of up-to-date political and cultural jabs and other references, not to mention the occasional four-letter word.
I've just opened Martin Edwards' Waterloo Sunset, and I've noticed reflections on urban growth and boosterism, not to mention a character who just might be disturbingly demented. I hadn't expected this from an author who has proclaimed his allegiance to traditional mysteries. Heck, the man even named his novel for a song by the Kinks.
I know something about what a traditional mystery isn't: full of explicit sex and wrenching violence. But sharpen my thinking, and tell me what a contemporary traditional mystery is.
© Peter Rozovsky 2009