Long as I can see the leitmotif: Recurring themes that lend texture to crime novels
Among my recent reading, Dana King's fine mob novel Wild Bill made great play of its FBI agents' worry that their specialty — organized crime — got short shrift in the bureau in favor of counterterrorism, the menace of the moment. More recently, Adrian McKinty's I Hear the Sirens in the Street is shot through with references to emigration from Northern Ireland in the early 1980s, the time and place of the novel's setting, invoked even when a suitcase turns up with body parts in it. (The suitcase's vendor can't remember having sold that particular item because so many people are buying luggage to pack for their permanent trips away.)
Leitmotifs in fiction are more than quirks, less than plot elements. A leitmotif should, according to a definition of leitmotifs' use in music, be "clearly identified so as to retain its identity if modified on subsequent appearances." Used well, it indicates an author in control of his or her material, with a firm idea of what kind of story he or she wants to tell. Leitmotifs might not come to mind right away if someone asks you what happens in a given novel, but they are part of what a novel is about, part of the world it creates.
What are your favorite leitmotifs, or recurring themes, in crime novels? What do they add? And are leitmotifs a necessary part of a good story? Why? Why not?
© Peter Rozovsky 2012