Crime fiction and realism

Cobley, Paul ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-8222-159X (2019) Crime fiction and realism. In: The Routledge Companion to Crime Fiction. Pepper, Andrew, Allan, Janice, Gulddal, Jesper and King, Stewart, eds. Routledge, London. . (Accepted/In press)

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Abstract

This chapter will address the relation of crime fiction and realism. Realism is an issue in crime fiction because the threat of crime in fiction differs so greatly from the corresponding threat in real life. The demand on creative writing means, firstly, that the depiction of crime for entertainment purposes largely needs to eschew the banality of real life crime. Secondly, the prevalence of certain crimes in fiction – particularly murder – far exceeds that of real life. This is particularly the case in respect of the typical locations of crime fiction such as Mayhem Parva or Midsomer, on the one hand, or the mean streets, on the other. Contemporary real life murder is much more frequent in war zones and domestic environs.

The chapter will demonstrate how debates about realism in crime fiction have arisen particularly as subgenres have abutted each other and, particularly, as practitioners of crime fiction started, along with commentators, to write about their craft. Pivotal, in this respect, is the set of arguments about realism which arose between the hard-boiled and ‘cozy’ schools of crime fiction in the 1930s. In order to investigate such debates in a little more depth, the chapter will define realism with reference to classical theories which have been applied to fiction across different media. These will include the formulations of Jakobson, Lukacs, Bazin, Barthes and the ‘classic realist text’ thesis. It will consider the following issues in relation to crime fiction:

• What is understood to be ‘the real’
• What the literary movement of ‘realism’ entails
• What the demands of veracity and fidelity to fact are in creative writing
• How verisimilitude involves a more mutable relation to ‘the real’ through doxa (Todorov).

It will also consider the different dimensions of realism in crime fiction, including realist prose, psychological realism and historical realism.

It will be argued that while realism is increasingly subject to the vagaries of (multi)culture, geography and political context in the contemporary period, there are some enduring demands on crime fiction. It is proposed that the 500-1,000 word case study will focus on a crime fiction text whose consumption in the social media age played out some of the classic questions of crime fiction realism (correspondence to historical events, psychological in/consistency, non-veracious glamour, the prevalence of murder) along with some more contemporary ones (politically correct or wishful assignation of character roles). The text in question is the BBC hit of the Autumn 2018 schedules, Bodyguard.

Item Type: Book Section
Editors: Pepper, Andrew and Allan, Janice and Gulddal, Jesper and King, Stewart
Research Areas: A. > School of Media and Performing Arts > Media
Item ID: 27649
Useful Links:
Depositing User: Paul Cobley
Date Deposited: 25 Sep 2019 15:21
Last Modified: 27 Sep 2019 17:52
URI: https://eprints.mdx.ac.uk/id/eprint/27649

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