The Crime Fiction Handbook
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The Crime Fiction Handbook presents a comprehensive introduction to the origins, development, and cultural significance of the crime fiction genre, focusing mainly on American British, and Scandinavian texts.
  • Provides an accessible and well-written introduction to the genre of crime fiction
  • Moves with ease between a general overview of the genre and useful theoretical approaches
  • Includes a close analysis of the key texts in the crime fiction tradition
  • Identifies what makes crime fiction of such cultural importance and illuminates the social and political anxieties at its heart.
  • Shows the similarities and differences between British, American, and Scandinavian crime fiction traditions



Peter Messent is Emeritus Professor of Modern American Literature at the University of Nottingham. A specialist on Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway, and crime fiction, he has published numerous books and articles on a variety of nineteenth- and twentieth-century American writers. His most recent publication is the prize-winning book Mark Twain and Male Friendship (2009). 


Acknowledgments vii

Introductory Note ix

Part 1 Introduction 1

Part 2 The Politics, Main Forms, and Key Concerns of Crime Fiction 9

The Politics of Crime Fiction 11

The Types of Crime Fiction 27

Classical Detective Fiction 27

Hard-Boiled Detective Fiction 34

The Police Novel 41

Transgressor Narratives 50

Vision, Supervision, and the City 60

Crime and the Body 75

Gender Matters 85

Representations of Race 96

Part 3 Some KeyWorks in Crime Fiction 107

Edgar Allan Poe: “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” (1841) 109

Arthur Conan Doyle: The Sign of Four (1890) 116

Agatha Christie: The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (1926) 127

Dashiell Hammett: The Maltese Falcon (1930) 136

Raymond Chandler: The Big Sleep (1939) 143

James M. Cain: Double Indemnity (1936) 151

Patricia Highsmith: The Talented Mr. Ripley (1955) 159

Chester Himes: Cotton Comes to Harlem (1965) 167

Maj Sj€owall and Per Wahl€o€o: The Laughing Policeman (1968) 176

James Ellroy: The Black Dahlia (1987) 187

Thomas Harris: The Silence of the Lambs (1988) 198

Patricia Cornwell: Unnatural Exposure (1997) 208

Ian Rankin: The Naming of the Dead (2006) 218

Stieg Larsson: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2005) 227

End Note 241

References 243

Index 253


“Summing Up: Recommended.  Upper-division undergraduates through faculty.”  (Choice, 1 September 2013)

“Messent's readings are always perceptive and his book offers an excellent introduction to a diverse genre.”  (The Guardian, 8 March 2013)

“Those interested in the more arcane byways of crime fiction will find this concise but intelligent volume invaluable, with its academic (but accessible) analyses of some of the key texts in the genre. What is perhaps the most valuable aspect of the book is the fact that Peter Messent has managed to unearth new insights into this much written-about subject — no easy task in the 21st century, when a considerable amount of analysis of the field (including, in a modest way, by this writer) is so endemic.”  (Crime Time, 27 February 2013) 

" a stroke this volume joins the library of key texts in the field." (Crime Time, February 2013)

"... a good introduction to a prolific genre." (Times Literary Supplement, March 2013)