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Jason Pinter as column on the Huffington Post and the caption of his latest posting is “The State of the Crime Novel.” He has brought together four well-known crime fiction critics and asked them a series of question.

Patrick Anderson, Oline H. Cogdill, Jon Jordan, David J. Montgomery, Kate Stine and Sarah Weinman have a wealth of experience between them and give a revealing look into the crime fiction genre. Who is writing, what they are writing about, and the impact of crime fiction.

One the questions put by Pinter caught my eye. He asked about relevance of crime fiction today. Below I’ve set out the answers from the crime fiction critics. It is an insightful read from the critics who are on the frontline of reviewing the latest crime fiction in the United States. The opinions are mainly about American authors and books set in the United States.

What is interesting is that no one mentioned international crime fiction, and the relevance of the international crime novel as a way to understand the social and political issues in other cultures. We learn a lot about a culture and political system from the way the authorities enforce (or failed to enforce) the law, the attitudes toward the police, criminals, victims, and a great deal about the social structure in which the crime has been committed.

Perhaps in future columns Jason Pinter might address the globalization of crime fiction and how these books have come to shape our views and attitudes about other countries.

How relevant is the crime novel today?

Anderson: At their best, highly relevant.

Cogdill: More than ever, the crime novel is a reflection of our times. It shows who we are. A mainstream novel cannot do what a crime novel does. I think mysteries are the social novel of today — Walter Mosely showed us what it is like to be a black man in post WWII LA; Laura Lippman has been chronicling the lives of young women in the contemporary world. Even Jeffery Deaver’s Lincoln Rhyme series has the undertone of what happens to a brilliant criminalist who can no longer be active, whose mind is sharp but body is betraying him. Mysteries are not about violence, but about why, increasingly a look at the issues of identity of self, family, neighborhood and society. Crime novels also offer us an escape and who doesn’t need that.

Jordan: I think crime fiction has always been relevant, but today a lot more of what is being written is no longer seen only as genre fiction and as such it seems mainstream media covers a bit more than they used to.

Montgomery: As relevant as it’s ever been and probably more important than ever. Not much popular fiction deals with the important issues of our time, whether it’s race or violence or anything else. But crime fiction – the best of crime fiction, anyway – takes those subjects and examines them within the context of an entertaining and engaging story, thus making them accessible to an audience that wouldn’t necessarily read a non-fiction book or even the newspaper.

Weinman: I agree with the many who have called it the equivalent of the social novel of yore. Through crime we find out how our worst impulses reflect contemporary society.


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