The eminently utilitarian ‘Crime File’ series (under the custodianship of series editor Clive Bloom) steams ahead with another provocative and informed volume in Contemporary American Crime Fiction. Yet again (as in previous entries in the series), this is a truly eclectic mix of subject and approach, often eccentric, but always at the service of treating the crime fiction genre with the seriousness it deserves.

The study includes a perceptive piece on important female detective story writers such as Sara Paretsky and Sue Grafton along with intriguing studies of black female crime writing and Katherine V Forrest’s lesbian protagonist; there is also an analysis of the English tradition in modern American crime fiction (as represented by such stellar practitioners as Martha Grimes and Elizabeth George). If the selections listed above suggests a notably feminist slant here, that cannot be denied — current academic trends are undoubtedly reflected in the text. But that’s not to say that male writers not represented in the critical exegesis (even though phallocentric traditions take quite a pasting in the argument). The section on Los Angeles-set police procedurals by the modern American Masters James Ellroy and Michael Connelly manages to throw new light on a massively popular — but under examined — field of literature, while the essay on historical mysteries succeeds in drawing some striking parallels between the various talented writers represented here. To some degree, the battle to ensure that popular forms of genre writing should be taken seriously has been won, but Contemporary American Crime Fiction demonstrates that there is much excavation still to be done. And leaving such observations aside, this is a book with added value – it will function as a useful shopping list for those who enjoy the genre.

Contemporary American Crime Fiction Hans Bertens & Theo D’haen

Palgrave Macmillan

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