Friday, April 03, 2009

Men, women and crime fiction

DJs Krimiblog has been discussing, in Danish and English, femkrimis, machokrimis and the notion of whether certain types of crime fiction appeal especially to men and others to women. The latest entry is a guest post from Dagger winner Martin Edwards, author of the Harry Devlin series and the Lake District mysteries.

Writes Edwards:

"Jeg skrev de første romaner, som foregik i Liverpool, med en mandlig tredje-persons fortæller, og kun én synsvinkel. Men efterhånden som jeg fik selvtillid som forfatter, gav jeg mig i kast med at variere min stil. Jeg begyndte med at indføre flere forskellige synsvinkler."
or, if you prefer,

"I wrote my early novels, set in Liverpool, from a male, third person, single viewpoint, perspective. But as I gained in confidence as a writer, I began to ring the changes. I started to introduce additional viewpoints."
Edwards has written male and female protagonists and point-of-view characters, and his guest post bears the title Krimi for alle / Crime for all. Join the discussion, and learn some Danish along the way.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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41 Comments:

Blogger Loren Eaton said...

I'm not sure perspective appeals more or less to either sex. Content seems to be the clencher, at least from my very-limited experience.

April 03, 2009  
Blogger Fred said...

I'm not so sure about the significance in perspective either. My own extremely limited experience (I belong to two face-to-face groups in which I am the only male) suggests it's more a matter of individual difference than gender.

Before WWII, it seemed as though there was a gender difference in the type of stories, but I wonder if that wasn't really a case of cultural differences. Many of the British writers were women, and they seemed to focus on more cerebral mysteries while US writers were mostly male and the stories were more violent than the British stories.

This seems to have changed somewhat recently, or so it has seemed to me. However, to be honest, I'm trying to think of an US male writer who concentrates more on the cerebral aspects.

Just an impression and based on limited knowledge--naturally.



Fred's Place
http://tinyurl.com/5urlla

April 03, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Loren, you might want to take a look at DJ's discussions to see the sorts of disctinctions some people make. I don't know if this comes up on her site, but it occurs to me that readers and critics are more apt to note a female author moving into traditionally male territory (such as adventure novels) than the reverse, whatever "traditionally female" might mean.

It may be worth noting that Hard Case Crime's first novel by a woman, Christa Faust's Money Shot, is about a tough woman hell-bent on revenge -- ths sort of thing one might think of as traditionally male fictional territory. Another traditionally male domain is adventure novels. Here, too, Faust is one of the authors chosen to write a book in Hard Case' new Gabriel Hunt adventure series.

April 03, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Fred, one still hears that more women than men read mysteries. What the breakdown is within the various subgenres of crime fiction, I don't know.

I think you're right to suspect that the gender difference may really be a cultural difference. But that raises the question of why it was women -- the Christies and Sayerses and Allinghams of the world -- who wrote stories of detection, and men -- the Buchans and Sappers -- who wrote adventure tales.

April 03, 2009  
Blogger Dorte H said...

Peter, thanks for taking up the discussion here :)

The perspective does not matter to me, either, but when I come across male protagonists who look down on women it does put me off the book. There may not be many of those nowadays, but I recently read & reviewed Norwegian Kjell Ola Dahl´s The Fourth Man, and experienced it as ´macho´ in an oldfashioned and derogatory way.

April 03, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I just read your review of The Fourth Man. I wonder if Dahl shares the attitude of his macho characters.

April 03, 2009  
Blogger Lauren said...

I met Dahl at the Edinburgh Book Festival last year, and he's either a nice man who is not obnoxiously macho or a brilliant actor.

I didn't find The Fourth Man particularly brilliant, but I didn't think it was that old-fashioned/derogatory either. Unfortunately. Perhaps my circle of male acquaintances are less refined than in Scandinavia (then again, I'm based at a nguniversity...). I remember Dahl saying that he set out to use a different style in each book, so the retro element might be deliberate and have gone a smidge too far.

I wouldn't say the gender relations etc in Dahl's other translated book, The Man in the Window, are necessarily a great deal more 'enlightened', but it's a much better story. It helps that the more mild-mannered of the detectives comes to the fore.

I personally read most types of crime fiction (including the tech-y stuff - when I was sick and had to spend a lot of time in bed a few years ago, I even made it through all of Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan novels. Gadgets = cool; politics = bad) and it's pretty rare that I condemn something as painfully macho - only Leif Persson springs to mind. I do occasionally get tired of middle-aged male angst, though luckily there's a wider range of detectives out there these days!

However, I often have the feeling that I'm reading something where the target audience definitely skews female. (Oddly enough, Dahl shared the session in Edinburgh hwith Camilla Lackberg!) Not in a negative way, but I definitely notice the difference. Fewer texts seem to be 'harmlessly masculine' - ie blokey but with no bad connotations. Marek Krajewiski and Philip Kerr spring to mind.
Helene Tursten is perhaps an example of a female author whose heroine is nonetheless fairly neutral.

Will wander over to Dorte's and pontificate further on this tomorrow. Seems to be past my bedtime!

April 03, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

"I remember Dahl saying that he set out to use a different style in each book, so the retro element might be deliberate and have gone a smidge too far."

That's interesting. I replied to Dorte that I wondered if the characters' attitudes were necessarily the author's. I was leaving open the possibility that he may have been making fun of or criticizing those attitudes.

"I do occasionally get tired of middle-aged male angst, though luckily there's a wider range of detectives out there these days!"

Middle-aged angst is the new macho; there seems to be so much of it in crime fiction. Perhaps one reason Andrea Camilleri depicts middle-aged angst so well is that he's over eighty. Whether he writes from his imagination or from wisdom born of experience or distance, there seems to be little or none of the (authorial) self-pity that marks many middle-aged detectives. (I’ve discussed that subject here, should you wish to take a look.)

"Helene Tursten is perhaps an example of a female author whose heroine is nonetheless fairly neutral."

Neutral and determinedly so, I'd say. Tursten says she deliberately made Irene Huss an ordinary, non-model woman balancing family and career. She does a good job of it, I'd say, portraying Huss' everyday domestic tribulations without whining or making any of them into a crisis.

"Will wander over to Dorte's and pontificate further on this tomorrow. Seems to be past my bedtime!"

I look forward to your pontification. Gute nacht.

April 03, 2009  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

I love to see more on the Danish-Swedish rivalry which was one of my favourite bits of The Kingdom for example.

April 03, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Trying to stir up intra-Scandinavian jealousies and hatreds, are you?

I just read a bit about The Kingdom, and it appears to be one of the odder stories ever set down on film or video, and definitely worth a look. Thanks.

April 04, 2009  
Blogger Dorte H said...

Peter, I think you are quite right that Dahl wrote a ´retro macho crime novel´ on purpose. Perhaps derogatory is too strong a word, but I don´t think a male author should expect (Scandinavian) women to enjoy a macho protagonist.
It is not as if it is the worst book I have ever read, but this male/female discussion is part of what I have been doing for some time, and I really think it is relevant point out that when men begin to call women ´ladies´, I do not exactly regard it as a complement.
With regard to The Kingdom, it is a wonderful series though I cannot really see the relevance here :) I have read & reviewed 7 Swedish novels on my blog & liked most of them, and in the same period I have reviewed one Danish. (So if there is any Swedish-Danish rivalry within the crime fiction area, we are certainly the envy ones)

April 04, 2009  
Blogger Dorte H said...

... (should have been: we are the envious ones). Perhaps I shouldn´t try to write comments while in bed?

I just saw Lauren´s comment again (on my mail) and wanted to comment on this remark also: "I wouldn't say the gender relations etc in Dahl's other translated book, The Man in the Window, are necessarily a great deal more 'enlightened', but it's a much better story."
I agree, Lauren, that it is a better story, and I didn´t regard it as remarkably macho either.
And of course I don´t think K.O. Dahl is anything like his protagonists :)

Peter, you´d enjoy the word verification. Ummingst - that must be an old Norse word for macho men which women like me don´t like.

April 04, 2009  
Blogger Lauren said...

I think there's definitely a national element to how tolerant a (female) reader is of macho elements in crime novels - I've spent a good chunk of my life in Europe, but I grew up in Australia, and certain aspects of the culture there are very blokey.

As for Danish versus Swedish crime fiction...there seems to be a great deal more of the latter available than the former. Saying that, I'm reading two Danish authors at the moment - Inger Wolf and Jens Henrik Jensen.

April 04, 2009  
Blogger Loren Eaton said...

... it occurs to me that readers and critics are more apt to note a female author moving into traditionally male territory (such as adventure novels) than the reverse, whatever "traditionally female" might mean.

I'd agree with that. It might be linked to our (meaning North American) breakdown meaningful distinctions between the sexes. That, though, is a conversation better suited for a another time and place.

April 04, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

"Peter, I think you are quite right that Dahl wrote a ´retro macho crime novel´ on purpose. Perhaps derogatory is too strong a word, but I don´t think a male author should expect (Scandinavian) women to enjoy a macho protagonist."
It is not as if it is the worst book I have ever read, but this male/female discussion is part of what I have been doing for some time, and I really think it is relevant point out that when men begin to call women ´ladies´, I do not exactly regard it as a complement.


In North America, everyone is familiar with old movies and books in which women are referred as dames and ladies. A parody or deliberately retro take on such books or movies would probably go over well as long at it was immediately recognized as parody or retro. Perhaps this is not the case in countries where the hard-boiled, macho tradition is not native.

I don't know about rivalries among the Nordic nations, though I have read Swedish fiction that recognizes the problem of prejudice against Finns.

April 04, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

"Peter, you´d enjoy the word verification. Ummingst - that must be an old Norse word for macho men which women like me don´t like."

Or else the Old Norse vocative form of yet another not entirely complimentary term for women that is apt fo come up in crime fiction..

April 04, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

"I grew up in Australia, and certain aspects of the culture there are very blokey."

North American way don't prevail everywhere, I guess. Your observation squares with popular views of Australia from the outside, I'd say.

April 04, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

And I'm unsure I've read any Danish crime fiction.

April 04, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

"I'd agree with that. It might be linked to our (meaning North American) breakdown meaningful distinctions between the sexes. That, though, is a conversation better suited for a another time and place."

Or else it means that we are apter to praise a woman for blazing a trail into traditionally masculine territory than we are to praise a man for expressing his feminine side.

Or maybe male authors have long since blazed that trail. I once read an essay that said many more male authors had created great female characters than female authors great male characters.

April 04, 2009  
Blogger Lauren said...

I can't think of any Danish fiction that I've read in English, certainly.

As for Australian culture - it's naturally as complex a place as any other, and certain stereotypes are, well, stereotypical, even when talking about gender. But I give you the Ernie Awards - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ernie_Awards or http://www.abc.net.au/thingo/txt/s1180534.htm

Clearly I'm not the only one to view certain things with a jaundiced eye...

April 04, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

A nice touch that the award for repeat offenders is the Clinton.

April 04, 2009  
Blogger Fred said...

Why women wrote more mysteries and men more adventure tales between WWI and WWII?

I honestly don't know. Perhaps the feeling was that readers wouldn't buy an adventure tale by a woman, etc.

April 04, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

It's easier for me to guess why women wrote few adventure tales than why they wrote many mysteries, at least in Britain. One would suppose that more men had experience in espionage, war and the like and that these were therefore seen as masculine occupations. Why the Golden Age of British crime writing should have been so thoroughly dominated by female authors is an interesting question.

April 04, 2009  
Blogger Dorte H said...

With regard to Danish crime fiction we haven´t had many really good writers in my time.
It seems that a new generation is on its way, but I usually try out authors via the library so I am not acquainted with them yet.
Of the established writers Leif Davidsen is the only one who has been translated into English, I believe (and his books are more thrillers than crime). My favourites are Elsebeth Egholm, Susanne Staun (whom I reviewed recently) and Gretelise Holm. I think I have read somewhere that Elsebeth Egholm is on her way to England, but I don´t know when.

April 05, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Leif Davidsen is the only one of that group whom I know -- no surprise there if none of the others has been translated into English. It would not shock me if some have been translated into German, though.

April 05, 2009  
Anonymous marco said...

There's Mikkel Birkegaard who seems to have made a splash with I Libri di Luca - though I have read a couple of very harsh reviews. I think I have read an English publication is forthcoming.

April 05, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Maybe readers thought they were getting Kierkegaard and were disappointed when the book turned out disturbingly unprotoexistentialist.

April 05, 2009  
Blogger Lauren said...

At a quick glance, I think all the authors mentioned by Dorte have indeed been translated into German, though I've only read Egholm.

Depending on how good your German is, http://www.schwedenkrimi.de/start.php is probably the best resource going for Scandinavian crime in German. (Talk about specific!)

Am off to Belfast for a few days, so that's it for the moment.

April 05, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I made my guess about German because Hakan Nesser once said that Germany was the big translation market that Scandinavian crime writers hoped to crack.

Thanls for the link, though my German is decidedly not good enough to let me read crime fiction.

Enjoy Belfast. Stop in at No Alibis if you get a chance.

April 05, 2009  
OpenID bookwitch said...

People are being very polite here, but I'm sure all the other countries have 'ambivalent' feelings towards us Swedes. It's never good to act as though it's a given that you are the best, biggest, or most something else.

There is some sort of joke (?) in Denmark that goes along the lines that you should do your good deed for the day 'by accompanying a Swede to the ferry'. I sort of believe that means they want to get rid of us...

April 06, 2009  
Blogger Dorte H said...

Ann, I am sure that is only because Danes are so jealous because you have the best crime fiction writers :)
I do know the joke, however, because I worked in a port when I was young. So in Frederikshavn the saying was "keep Denmark clean by accompanying a Swede to the ferry", but in Hirtshals where the ferry came from Norway we would say exactly the same about Norwegians. And if you have ever been onboard a ´Saturday night liquor cruise´ anywhere in the world I think you know why.

April 06, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

"People are being very polite here, but I'm sure all the other countries have 'ambivalent' feelings towards us Swedes. It's never good to act as though it's a given that you are the best, biggest, or most something else."

That's a salutary lesson to we outsiders, who sometimes have the idea that the Scandinavian nations are a paradise of free love and social welfare. Of course, the cracks in that utopian vision have fueled Scandinavian crime writing at least since Sjöwall and Wahlöö.

April 06, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

”So in Frederikshavn the saying was "keep Denmark clean by accompanying a Swede to the ferry", but in Hirtshals where the ferry came from Norway we would say exactly the same about Norwegians. And if you have ever been onboard a ´Saturday night liquor cruise´ anywhere in the world I think you know why.”

I wonder if Nordic nations in particular and cold-climate nations in general are more prone to drunken excess than Mediterranean and other warm-climate nations. This question is fraught with sociological interest.

April 06, 2009  
Blogger Dorte H said...

Peter, I begin to understand how you get so many comments and why we always have such surprising and interesting discussions on your blog. Always end your answer with a new question :)
So this time I have one for you: this week´s task for my Blog Improvement Project is how to get more comments on our blogs. I wonder whether I could persuade you to write a blog post for me on this subject? - just your own thoughts about what you do.

April 07, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

It sounds as if you have at least one of the tactics down pat -- or maybe two, since posting in more than one language seems a good way to increase yor readership.

I shall try to gather sone thoughts and set them down in a post. Thanks for asking.

April 07, 2009  
Blogger Dorte H said...

Thanks a lot, Peter :)

My mail address is here :
do.hu.ja@mail.tele.dk

April 07, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

So I presume you want me to e-mail you my suggestions, as opposed to making a post here to which you would then link?

April 07, 2009  
Blogger Dorte H said...

Oh, yes that was what I had in mind, a post written by guest blogger Peter Rozovsky. Sorry I didn´t make that quite clear yesterday.
I hope you are still on? - it is part of my new, aggressive blog improvement strategy: enhancing the number of visitors and comments by inviting interesting & experienced bloggers to write for me :D

April 07, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

OK, give me a few days to throw something together. Once you post it, I'll link to it from here.

April 07, 2009  
Blogger Dorte H said...

That sounds really fine!

Thank you!

April 08, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I'll try to have something for you by the end of the week. You'll have to translate it into Danish, though. My Danish is not yet up to speed. Tak.

April 08, 2009  

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