Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Story of a Crime and Crime Stories

I'm generally not one for so-called genre fiction, preferring to read simply what's considered important regardless of thematic base rather than immerse myself in a specific genre, but over the past two years I have been introduced and become further acquainted a number of writers of mystery and crime writing.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, Dirty Snow by Georges Simenon was my introduction, and I immediately followed this by purchasing a collection of Raymond Chandler novels.  Since then have shored up my familiarity to the genre by reading several works by James Cain, Dashiel Hammett, Agatha Christie, and Jim Thompson.

I just had the pleasure of adding another to the list by finishing Roseanna, the first volume of Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo's ten part police series they collectively call The Story of a Crime.

I was initially drawn to this series through a reference that their works were the heir to Simenon, but gained further interest due to their approach to the series in general.  They intended their series to be a critique of capitalist society rather than simply a collection of books with recurring characters, as most series seem to be.  Their work is best described as police procedurals.  There is no dashing private eye and, despite having a central character, it is the collective actions of the department that solve the crime, not the extraordinary efforts of one person.  And speaking of extraordinary efforts, the only extraordinary effort I could discern in the first novel was that of patience.  Everything moves with a brutally realistic pace.  Information comes in slowly and sporadically, there are large stretches of time where nothing happens, and setbacks occur.  I was reminded of the HBO series The Wire where everything moves slowly forward piece by piece, not by a revelation.

Here's a link to an article on Maj Sjowall:


Why crime writing in general?  I don't think there can be an answer when the question is stated like this.  There is as much variety within the genre as there is in what is considered general fiction.  I think the first step is re-phrasing this question by acknowledging that this genre has this extraordinary variety.  Thompson is as distinct from Chandler as Kafka is from Maugham.  To say that they all have a link to crime in some form is so broad as to ultimately be meaningless.  Like all important works the writers and their books must be able to stand on their own merits.  In my experience, the authors I have mentioned do just that and, if the first novel is any indication, Sjowall/Wahloo have creating something of singular importance as well.

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