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Crime fiction has been one of the most popular genres since the 19th century, but has roots in works as varied as Sophocles, Herodotus, and Shakespeare. In this Very Short Introduction Richard Bradford explores the history of the genre, by considering the various definitions of crime fiction and looking at how it has developed over time. Discussing the popularity of crime Crime fiction has been one of the most popular genres since the 19th century, but has roots in works as varied as Sophocles, Herodotus, and Shakespeare. In this Very Short Introduction Richard Bradford explores the history of the genre, by considering the various definitions of crime fiction and looking at how it has developed over time. Discussing the popularity of crime fiction worldwide and its various styles; the role that gender plays within the genre; spy fiction, and legal dramas and thrillers; he explores how the crime novel was shaped by the work of British and American authors in the 18th and 19th centuries. Highlighting the works of notorious authors such as Edgar Allan Poe, Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie, and Raymond Chandler -- to name but a few -- he considers the role of the crime novel in modern popular culture and asks whether we can, and whether we should, consider crime fiction serious literature. ABOUT THE SERIES: The Very Short Introductions series from Oxford University Press contains hundreds of titles in almost every subject area. These pocket-sized books are the perfect way to get ahead in a new subject quickly. Our expert authors combine facts, analysis, perspective, new ideas, and enthusiasm to make interesting and challenging topics highly readable.


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Crime fiction has been one of the most popular genres since the 19th century, but has roots in works as varied as Sophocles, Herodotus, and Shakespeare. In this Very Short Introduction Richard Bradford explores the history of the genre, by considering the various definitions of crime fiction and looking at how it has developed over time. Discussing the popularity of crime Crime fiction has been one of the most popular genres since the 19th century, but has roots in works as varied as Sophocles, Herodotus, and Shakespeare. In this Very Short Introduction Richard Bradford explores the history of the genre, by considering the various definitions of crime fiction and looking at how it has developed over time. Discussing the popularity of crime fiction worldwide and its various styles; the role that gender plays within the genre; spy fiction, and legal dramas and thrillers; he explores how the crime novel was shaped by the work of British and American authors in the 18th and 19th centuries. Highlighting the works of notorious authors such as Edgar Allan Poe, Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie, and Raymond Chandler -- to name but a few -- he considers the role of the crime novel in modern popular culture and asks whether we can, and whether we should, consider crime fiction serious literature. ABOUT THE SERIES: The Very Short Introductions series from Oxford University Press contains hundreds of titles in almost every subject area. These pocket-sized books are the perfect way to get ahead in a new subject quickly. Our expert authors combine facts, analysis, perspective, new ideas, and enthusiasm to make interesting and challenging topics highly readable.

30 review for Crime Fiction: A Very Short Introduction

  1. 5 out of 5

    Susan

    Author Richard Bradford has written biographies about Phillip Larkin, Kingsley Amis and John Milton among others and his work generally tends towards subjects of literary fiction. As such, it is hardly a surprise that he seems uncomfortable with this introduction to crime fiction. Without doubt, crime fiction is the most popular of genre fiction – but whether readers prefer fantasy or science fiction – there is no doubt that devotee’s of any particular genre are knowledgeable and often even obse Author Richard Bradford has written biographies about Phillip Larkin, Kingsley Amis and John Milton among others and his work generally tends towards subjects of literary fiction. As such, it is hardly a surprise that he seems uncomfortable with this introduction to crime fiction. Without doubt, crime fiction is the most popular of genre fiction – but whether readers prefer fantasy or science fiction – there is no doubt that devotee’s of any particular genre are knowledgeable and often even obsessive about their favourite books and authors. Therefore, to end this slim volume with a chapter asking whether crime fiction can be taken seriously, both shows what the author thinks and sets the tone of this book. It begins with the origins of crime fiction. Bradford has a real issue with plots being implausible and he throws this accusation at authors from Edgar Allan Poe to Dorothy L Sayers. In fact, he has a real issue with Golden Age detective fiction generally – especially British authors, such as Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers (bizarrely accused of ‘farce and caricature’ as well as being ‘un-amusing’). I recently read, and loved, “The Golden Age of Murder,” by Martin Edwards and he highlighted wonderfully how, in the years after the First World War, people were just not willing to read violent novels after such a traumatic period they needed something a little gentler to entertain them. Of course, puzzles were also very popular in the 1920’s and 1930’s and a murder mystery was just that – something to work out, where the reader pitted his, or her, wits against the author. Sadly, Richard Bradford fails to find the charm and pleasure in these gentler mysteries and does not understand why they are so beloved by their readers. Authors in the US fare better and noir and hard-boiled books are looked at, as well as authors such as Joseph Wambaugh and James Ellroy (both of whom I admire) and who he considers more adventurous and realistic. Unsurprisingly, he does not tackle the extremely popular ‘cozy’ mysteries, especially so in the States, and not until much later in this short guide dos he consider anything outside either the UK or US. When he casts his eye over Europe, Asia and Latin America he does so only briefly and, bizarrely, the excellent work coming from Scandinavia is glossed over in less than two pages! With Nordic Noir so successful in the last few years, it is amazing that it gets so little interest. Many authors I love, such as P D James, are also given rather unforgiving mentions and I would have liked the new Scottish authors (the so-called, ‘Tartan Noir’) to have been highlighted – the crime fiction coming from Scotland recently has been phenomenal. Wrapped up with a look at spy fiction, legal fiction and thrillers, this is a frustrating read. Possibly it was just that I did not share many of the author’s opinions. However, I never felt that he was really a lover of crime fiction, or , indeed, that he wanted to engage and enthuse you to go and try some of the books or authors he was writing about. Often you felt that he was, in fact, keen for you to forget crime fiction and go and read something ‘worthwhile’ instead. I do not think I would suggest this for someone looking for inspiration or new authors to try. However, if you are a student and want a brief history of the genre, this does give you a rather biased, historical summary.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Damaskcat

    If you want to know about crime fiction then this is probably not the book to read. If you did read it before reading any crime fiction it would put you off for life. The author seems not to like crime fiction in any shape or form. Yes the book rehearses the usual historical origins of the genre with Wilkie Collins being tentatively awarded the accolade for first detective story in English with The Moonstone' So far, so good I thought. But when the author starts to criticise Collins for class co If you want to know about crime fiction then this is probably not the book to read. If you did read it before reading any crime fiction it would put you off for life. The author seems not to like crime fiction in any shape or form. Yes the book rehearses the usual historical origins of the genre with Wilkie Collins being tentatively awarded the accolade for first detective story in English with The Moonstone' So far, so good I thought. But when the author starts to criticise Collins for class consciousness my suspicions were aroused. The author writes reasonably about Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes though I sense he disapproves of the character and cannot quite understand his continued popularity. It is when it comes to discussing the Golden Age of British and American crime fiction that all his prejudices come to the fore. The plots are formulaic, the authors snobs and the writing is riddled with class prejudice, racism and anti-Semitism. I've got news for the author - these were the prevailing attitudes in the 1920s and 1930s. They were still the prevailing attitudes in the 1950s when I was growing up. The authors were writing about a world they knew. You cannot remove the author from the context of the times they were living in. As an academic the author should know that. He is slightly kinder to American noir crime fiction but not by much. It seems he regards that as more realistic - and realism is everything apparently. By this time I was finding it quite difficult to read the book without either defacing it or throwing it at the nearest wall. It seems to me that the author read Julian Symonds' 'Bloody Murder' and took it as gospel truth rather than what it is, a somewhat jaundiced look at the genre. The author is equally critical of later twentieth century authors including P D James and Ruth Rendell but seems to regard Bill James, Martin Amis and Jake Arnott as good crime writers. He also expresses perplexity over the huge sales of the Scandinavian crime writers in recent years as he cannot seem to understand how anyone could like them. The book does have notes on the chapters and a list of further reading and there are some useful books listed in that but if you're looking to start reading the genre then you would do best to look elsewhere for ideas of where to start though you could start with some of the authors criticised in this book and read them with an open mind. I am astounded that Oxford University Press could have commissioned this book from someone who clearly regards crime fiction as little better than entertainment for the uneducated masses.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Monica Willyard Moen

    As many of you know, I like mysteries of all sorts, cozy, hard-boiled, noir, puzzles, spy fiction, and everything in between. I was very disappointed by this book. It is not a good, balanced introduction to crime fiction. I say this because I expect an introductory text to be written in an objective manner that presents all styles of crime fiction in an equally open-minded style. That is not the case in this book. The authors bias seemed to leap from every page, especially in the sections about B As many of you know, I like mysteries of all sorts, cozy, hard-boiled, noir, puzzles, spy fiction, and everything in between. I was very disappointed by this book. It is not a good, balanced introduction to crime fiction. I say this because I expect an introductory text to be written in an objective manner that presents all styles of crime fiction in an equally open-minded style. That is not the case in this book. The authors bias seemed to leap from every page, especially in the sections about British crime fiction and golden age mystery fiction written between the years of 1920 and 1950. The author sang the praises of hard-boiled crime fiction like that of Hammett and chandler while either disparaging or marginalizing fiction written by people such as Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, Margery Allingham, Julian Symons, and others Who created puzzle style mysteries. I can understand an authors preference for certain writers within a genre, but it is inexcusable to marginalize an entire style of crime fiction which was commercially successful and that continues to be read almost a century later. The author’s justification for his viewpoint seems to be that since puzzle fiction is not created on reality, it is not a valid form of crime fiction. Instead, only those who are shallow and who seek shallow entertainment enjoy it. Lest the reader think his distaste for puzzle fiction is limited to British authors, he isn’t much of a fan of Ellery Queen or John Dickson Carr either. I think this book should get a title change so that it presents itself accurately as an introductory book about hard-boiled, mostly American crime fiction. As it stands, this book does cover the other types of crime fiction, but there is nowhere near the passion and energy in those sections that there is when the author writes about hard-boiled fiction from the 1930s and 1940s. I will not be keeping this book. It is on its way to the donation table at my local thrift shop.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Sheila

    This book has some interesting information not usually found in US-and-Euro-centric books about crime fiction. For example, it mentions a Bolshevik mystery called "Mess-Mend: Yankees in Petrograd" by Marietta Shaginyan. (Only available at university libraries), notable for its collective protagonist and it's unusual villain: capitalism! The book covers writers from Europe, Asia, and Latin America - but is skimpy on Africa and African American writers (it does praise Barbara Neeley's Blanche Whit This book has some interesting information not usually found in US-and-Euro-centric books about crime fiction. For example, it mentions a Bolshevik mystery called "Mess-Mend: Yankees in Petrograd" by Marietta Shaginyan. (Only available at university libraries), notable for its collective protagonist and it's unusual villain: capitalism! The book covers writers from Europe, Asia, and Latin America - but is skimpy on Africa and African American writers (it does praise Barbara Neeley's Blanche White series), and I don't recall any Indigenous writers (thus only 3 stars). One online resources suggested by the author is Prof. G. J. Demko's website on international crime fiction: https://www.dartmouth.edu/~gjdemko/ To this I would add a blog post, "Radical Noir: 26 Activist Crime Novels https://crimereads.com/activist-noir-... And a great list "African American Mystery Writers and Their African American Detectives" (mostly women) posted by the LAPL: https://www.lapl.org/collections-reso... It's frustrating, trying to do a search for "Native American Mysteries by Native American authors" ... because there's a sub-sub-genre out there that always pops up: white authors who have "adopted" Native American nations and who have created mystery series featuring Native detectives or cops. (If anyone knows of such a list, please let me know.) Here's an interview with Cherokee mystery writer Sue Ann Hokletubbe: https://uapress.arizona.edu/2017/12/s... (I recommend her books, which are suitable for young adults, too.)

  5. 5 out of 5

    J Grimsey

    The good news about this book is that it does what it says on the tin. Fine. It divides Sherlock. Golden Age and Hardboiled crime fiction in a standard way again fine. But if then uses the tired old trope that Golden Age crime novels are not as good as the tough American hard boiled novels- this is where I disagree. More violence does not mean more realistic. Books that are fun are not bad books. American culture should not have cultural hegemony over British. What's really worrying is that a ha The good news about this book is that it does what it says on the tin. Fine. It divides Sherlock. Golden Age and Hardboiled crime fiction in a standard way again fine. But if then uses the tired old trope that Golden Age crime novels are not as good as the tough American hard boiled novels- this is where I disagree. More violence does not mean more realistic. Books that are fun are not bad books. American culture should not have cultural hegemony over British. What's really worrying is that a hard pressed librarian might use this book to help to choose crime novels and that would be sad. Where are the enjoyable series of historical who-done-it's such as those by Ann Perry, Jacqueline Winspear, Ellis Peters, and Peter Tremayne's

  6. 4 out of 5

    Mihai

    I was browsing the reviews here and I found that most of the reader perceive this short book as a critique of the genre? called Crime Fiction. Maybe in part they are correct. On the other hand, it is hard to miss the many copycats of the same detective-murder-who-did-it? which were always flooding this literary world. Just a point I want to make: his main argument was not a critique: it was that, for all its ills and purposes, this genre is also the best mirror to what our society is and what we I was browsing the reviews here and I found that most of the reader perceive this short book as a critique of the genre? called Crime Fiction. Maybe in part they are correct. On the other hand, it is hard to miss the many copycats of the same detective-murder-who-did-it? which were always flooding this literary world. Just a point I want to make: his main argument was not a critique: it was that, for all its ills and purposes, this genre is also the best mirror to what our society is and what we as people could become: killers, perpetrators, but also moral compasses, detectives. I really enjoy it as info, and as a stroll through my own memory lane on old read books.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Malandune

    - the title should read "a history of crime fiction" instead of introduction as it focuses mainly on the plots of novels - fails to include modern crime fiction as it mainly focuses on the 19th & 20th century - it's very uk and US based and thus lacks a postcolonial perspective - the title should read "a history of crime fiction" instead of introduction as it focuses mainly on the plots of novels - fails to include modern crime fiction as it mainly focuses on the 19th & 20th century - it's very uk and US based and thus lacks a postcolonial perspective

  8. 4 out of 5

    Lalit Tomar

    Really a hard book to read... But this book told us the history and evolution of crime fiction... Being a Sherlock fan, this became my duty to know more about the detective stories and how they came in being .... Detailed review will follow

  9. 5 out of 5

    Mat

    This is pretty good, but unless this author knows something me and Google don’t, the author of the Bourne series is Robert Ludlum, not Eric... Something about the book made me feel the author’s heart wasn’t quite in it. But decent nonetheless.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Lauren

    Read as a project for work. Really informative, surprisingly entertaining, the nerd-ishment that feeds the English major within me.

  11. 5 out of 5

    D.M. Fletcher

    Short history This is a summary of the history of crime fiction. The fascination is the voyeuristic pleasure it gives us. All fiction is fantasy, and crime spices things up.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Tim

    Useful survey of the genre, but not as insightful of the appeal of crime fiction as I had hoped. Bradford did have a good gloss on the popular appeal of Scandinavian crime fiction though.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Jessica

    A decent overview of the "crime fiction" genre, though obviously lacking in the depth that I feel the subject matter deserves and which could have been included. A decent overview of the "crime fiction" genre, though obviously lacking in the depth that I feel the subject matter deserves and which could have been included.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Kate

    This book was hugely disappointing and I expected better from Oxford University Press. In chapter 1 there were interesting remarks on Poe but after this, intellectual calibre, originality and accuracy plummeted. From the outset of chapter 2 the negative bias of the author towards Golden Crime Fiction is apparent and equally highly unoriginal. Bradford continues in the vein of Lucy Worseley and rehashes and recycles the cliched and myopic perspectives on Golden Age Crime Fiction, generated by pre This book was hugely disappointing and I expected better from Oxford University Press. In chapter 1 there were interesting remarks on Poe but after this, intellectual calibre, originality and accuracy plummeted. From the outset of chapter 2 the negative bias of the author towards Golden Crime Fiction is apparent and equally highly unoriginal. Bradford continues in the vein of Lucy Worseley and rehashes and recycles the cliched and myopic perspectives on Golden Age Crime Fiction, generated by previous writers such as Julian Symons and Colin Watson. The usual accusations of implausibility, escapism and snobbery abound. Moreover when discussing Agatha Christie's The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, Bradford suggests this is a Miss Marple novel rather than a Poirot novel. This is just sloppy work and the way he describes this novel is so boring, no one would ever read it, yet the masterly trick it pulls on the readers, deserves a better write up. This is not very handy for readers who are beginners to the subject. Bradford brings nothing new to the analysis and discussion of the sub-genre of Golden Age crime fiction and skips over a mass of other writers such as Anthony Berekley who were working at the time which would disprove the assertions he is making. How convenient for him. Another recycled idea is that hard-boiled detective fiction is superior to the works categorised as coming from the Golden Age. And to be honest throughout the book American novelists are presented much more favourably, with their failings or inadequacies justified, especially in regards to realism, whilst those of their British counterparts are magnified. If you believed Bradford Britain has never written a decent crime novel. Even more ironical is that in Chapter 3 Bradford suggests Julian Symons' Bloody Murder and Chandler's hugely over quoted essay, 'The Simple Art of Murder' are biased against British crime fiction/Golden Age novels. Yet he then continues as from Chapter 2 spouting such biases as credible ideas rather than challenging them. It is disappointing that yet another book on crime fiction has published which has yet to move on from work published decades ago. Moreover, the inaccurate and biased portrayal of British crime fiction, especially Golden Age works is unlikely to encourage readers new to the subject to explore them further, which goes against the ethos of the A very Short Introduction series.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Stacia

    3.5* Spoils the ending of some books I plan to read but haven't read yet, which meant I did some skimming. I also skimmed some of the international section that didn't interest me. I found the section on gender very interesting, as I did their reasoning as to why Scandinavian works are so popular recently. 3.5* Spoils the ending of some books I plan to read but haven't read yet, which meant I did some skimming. I also skimmed some of the international section that didn't interest me. I found the section on gender very interesting, as I did their reasoning as to why Scandinavian works are so popular recently.

  16. 5 out of 5

    John Frankham

    This is an awful book. Partial, incomplete, condescending, and fixated in favour of the dark, violent and corrupt, as if only this represents real life. Much better to read the crime fiction and related entries in Wikipedia, which cover the same areas, including gender, and the place of this genre in fiction generally. And covers more authors, too.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Vikas Datta

    Incisive overview of the subject..

  18. 5 out of 5

    Nick Aaron

    I loved this clear and concise exposition of the subject. The one takeaway I'd like to mention: Tzvetan Todorov's idea that there are always two stories in a crime novel. The first one takes place before the novel starts, and ends with a corpse. The second one tells how the sleuth uncovers the first story. Brilliant analysis! You can apply it to any murder mystery, it works each time. I loved this clear and concise exposition of the subject. The one takeaway I'd like to mention: Tzvetan Todorov's idea that there are always two stories in a crime novel. The first one takes place before the novel starts, and ends with a corpse. The second one tells how the sleuth uncovers the first story. Brilliant analysis! You can apply it to any murder mystery, it works each time.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Laura

  20. 4 out of 5

    Melanie

  21. 5 out of 5

    murkuo

  22. 4 out of 5

    Jeff

  23. 4 out of 5

    Erica Thomas

  24. 5 out of 5

    Tristan R Kneschke

  25. 5 out of 5

    Katherine

  26. 4 out of 5

    Dianabi

  27. 4 out of 5

    Richard Williams

  28. 5 out of 5

    Maarten

  29. 4 out of 5

    Hannah Brown

  30. 5 out of 5

    Einar Eide

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