Wednesday, June 27, 2007

What real-life events have inspired waves of crime fiction?

This blog is a "fine interweb yokeybus," or at least Crime Always Pays says so, for which, thanks. The real point of the yokeybus comment, though, was a reply to my post about the current wave of Swedish crime fiction and its roots in the 1986 assassination of Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme.

The crux of C.A.P.'s comment is that a similar crisis may lie behind the current burst of Irish crime writing: the 1996 killing of the investigative reporter Veronica Guerin. That's a provocative thesis about a chilling case, and it leads me to throw the floor open to readers:

What real-life cases have sparked explosions of crime fiction, especially outside the traditional detective-story big three of the United States, Great Britain, and France? Back in February, I linked to a discussion of post-war violence and corruption in Japan that may have inspired Seicho Matsumoto. Can you think of any others?

© Peter Rozovsky 2007

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Fred West case (Gloucester serial killer) seems to have partly inspired books by Phil Rickman (the Lamp of the Wicked) and Peter Robinson (Aftermath).

June 28, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Coroner's Lunch was about a man made into Laos's only coroner in the aftermath of the communist takeover of 1975 (6?), and the book is suffused with the effects of giving people positions for ideological reasons rather than them having any qualifications for the job. (eg the coroner is a 72-year-old retiree but his boss a teenage judge).

There is an author whom I haven't read, I think her name is Lesley Pearce. This is a pseudonym for a woman who killed someone (maybe her mother? or her friend?) when a young girl in NZ. Peter Jackson made a pre-LOTR film of it (Heavenly Creatures) starring a then little-known Kate Winslett. I don't know whether the author has ever written a fictionalised account of this, or whether Heavenly Creatures ever existed in book form, but for some reason your post made me think of it.

June 28, 2007  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks. I'll have to read up on that case and see what influence it had. I'm setting the bar high with those Swedish and Irish examples. I'm looking for cases, crimes or events that sparked entire schools or types of crime writing and got writers to look at events and society in new ways. The thinking is that the Palme and Guerin cases inspired writers to examine their societies more critically.

Did the Fred West case inspire Rickman and Robinson to approach the subjects in new and different ways, different, perhaps, from other serial-killer novels? What did they do in their West-inspired stories that was different from what had gone before?

June 28, 2007  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Hi, Maxine. I've been thinking about taking a look at Colin Cotterill one of these days. Your note might be the spur I needed.

I'd say that Lesley Pearce exampe would make for a new and different kind of crime story, all right, which was one of my thoughts when I made my post. And getting a glimpse of those two talents earlier in their careers might be fun.

June 28, 2007  
Blogger Lauren said...

I'm a little hazy on all the details, but the writer involved in the Heavenly Creatures case now writes crime fiction under the name of Anne Perry. She has several series, (nearly?) all set in the 19th/early 20th centuries.

I started reading them before I knew about the murders in NZ (it was either her friend's mother or her own - I can't remember). The books are fairly formulaic, and not all that memorable, but I haven't been able to look at them since. I just feel too uncomfortable. I can take to a societal experience of death (Sweden, Germany) much more easily than a personal one. It feels gruesome to be reading about truth and justice from someone whose own relationship with those concepts is dubious.

This may also be why I never read true crime.

If, as I think Dorothy L. Sayers argued via Peter Wimsey/Harriet Vane, we read crime fiction to see order restored after chaos, that satisfaction is missing when I don't trust the author. That may just be a product of bad writing, though.

Lauren (de-lurking again briefly

June 29, 2007  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks for doing your de-lurking here.

Yikes! I had not started reading crime fiction back in 1994, when Heavenly Creatures was released, so all I know about the case, I have learned in the last ten minutes -- including that the victim was Perry's friend's mother. I have not read Perry, but I've certainly seen her books, seen her picture ... It was a creepy feeling to learn about her past, which I guess you share.

Ed McBain included one of her novellas in his Transgressions collection alongside work by McBain himself, Donald Westlake, Walter Mosely, Lawrence Block, Joyce Carol Oates and others, so Perry has apparently earned the respect of her peers in addition to selling a lot of books.

I wonder from what you wrote if Perry's work is more moralistic than most.

I thought about that Sayers statement and other like it after I finished a recent novel in which the triumph of justice is partial, but that of order complete. Subsidiary characters who are basically good get what they deserve, but bad guys get sent up for manslaughter instead of murder, or are forced to sell off illicitly acquired land, which is no fun but still a better outcome than the lengthy prison terms they deserve. Order and justice need not be simultaneous, in other words.

June 29, 2007  

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