2020 Davitt Awards Longlists


The link below is to an article reporting on the longlists for the 2020 Davitt Awards for the best crime books by Australian women.

For more visit:
https://www.booksandpublishing.com.au/articles/2020/06/01/151357/davitt-awards-2020-longlists-announced/

African crime and detective fiction reshapes the genre



Alexis Huguet/AFP/Getty Images

Aretha Phiri, Rhodes University and Sam Naidu, Rhodes University

Crime and detective fiction continues to top bestseller lists across the world, spawning TV series and films. In the hands of African writers, though, the genre offers a particularly textured world view.

That Ever-blurry Line Between Us and the Criminals: Re-Visioning Justice in African Noir is a colloquium paper by Sam Naidu. It focuses on African crime and detective fiction as a complex and disruptive variety of classic, Western crime and detective fiction.

In probing the transatlantic relationship between Africa and the West, Naidu presents a useful critique of seminal Black Atlantic studies like Paul Gilroy’s
1993 The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness. Aretha Phiri interviewed the author.


Aretha Phiri: Your paper addresses classic noir and African noir, sub-genres of crime and detective fiction?

Sam Naidu: African crime fiction builds on and extends classic crime fiction to explore philosophical questions about identity, knowledge and power. Referencing the same dark aesthetic of classic noir – characterised by themes of alienation, pessimism, moral ambivalence and disorientation – African crime fiction amplifies political awareness. And, occasionally, it destabilises the conventions of classic crime fiction, which arose during the aftermath of the two world wars when the world was in the grip of the Cold War.

Aretha Phiri: What is the ‘political’ relationship between classic and African crime fiction?

Sam Naidu: African crime fiction builds on and extends classic crime fiction’s exploration of philosophical questions about identity, knowledge and power in the modern world.

Politically, there is a deliberate shift to consider fundamental questions about Africa and its specific requirements. The novels I have read demonstrate a preoccupation with the ambiguity of justice. They express a poignant, Afro-pessimistic lament for a continent and its injustices.

They provide this focus in terms of colonialism and the power differentials of neo-colonialism in Africa. So, you find that economic exploitation and inequalities, race, war, genocide, corruption and state capture are common subject matter.

Aretha Phiri: You read Mũkoma wa Ngũgĩ’s novel Black Star Nairobi (2013) as a valuable way of demonstrating the disruption of the classical by the African? What’s it about?

Sam Naidu: It’s set mainly in Nairobi, Kenya, in 2007. It’s the eve of Barack Obama’s election as the first black US president and presidential elections in Kenya. O (short for Odihambo), a Kenyan former policeman who still works part-time for the police, has teamed up with Ishmael from the US, a former cop. Together they’ve formed a detective agency, Black Star, which is given a lucky break when O’s former boss hires them to investigate the murder of an unidentified person whose corpse is found gruesomely disfigured in the Ngong Forest outside Nairobi.


Melville House International, 2013

Aretha Phiri: You conclude in your paper that the predominant effect of African crime fiction is not so much a ‘dark’ sensibility as it is one of obscurity and poignant Afro-pessimism?

Sam Naidu: I reach this conclusion based on the literary texts. This is not my opinion of the state of the continent. The novels are very dark. They overwhelm the reader, with the mess, tragedy, garbage, cruelty, indignity and inhumanity that Africans face in reality. Due, of course, to historical and ongoing systemic oppression and corruption. For characters – and for readers – this can lead to muddledness and despair.

But the novels also offer a counterpoint – in the form of fearless detectives on the quest for justice. In the midst of the disquiet there is a faint flicker … It is this murkiness, taken to new depths, which makes African crime fiction particularly effective and significant. For example, the novel closes with a highly lyrical and metaphorical scene of African musicians in a market. Ishmael describes the competing rhythms of African music – a metaphor for the strife and power struggles of the continent. Despite the discord he detects a harmony –- “a tense harmony”.




Read more:
Nigeria’s queer literature offers a new way of looking at blackness


Aretha Phiri: How does Black Star Nairobi manage to disrupt classic crime fiction?

Sam Naidu: For example, through its innovative use of setting, characterisation, pace and conclusion to comment on ontological, existential and ethical themes to do with justice, it’s an exemplary African noir text. It explicitly extends classic noir into the realms of neo-noir.

Its blend of previous influences, use of setting, and its specific thematic concern with Afro-pessimism prompt the observation that African crime fiction extends classic noir into new literary, geo-political, and moral territories.

Murkiness, so characteristic of classic noir sensibility, mutates, at times, in African crime texts such as Black Star Nairobi and Leye Adenle’s When Trouble Sleeps, to a deliberate generic nebulousness. And thematically, to a moral blurriness so obscure as to disorient the reader and dismantle the basic binaries on which classic detective and crime fiction were predicated.

In classic noir or classic crime fiction there are clear detective heroes set up against indisputable villains (think of Sherlock Holmes) but in African crime fiction the heroes and villains often exchange roles or are complicit in some way.




Read more:
Black and queer women invite the Black Atlantic into the 21st century


Aretha Phiri: You describe this evolving genre as occupying a kind of borderland. How does this connect to your research in migration and diaspora?

Sam Naidu: In my work on literature of migration and diaspora I am mainly concerned with the experience of migrants. I am, however, also interested in how literary genres migrate. What processes of cross-pollination occur as a result of diaspora?

Aretha Phiri: What do you see African crime fiction contributing to Black Atlantic scholarship?

Sam Naidu: As a form of postcolonial, transnational writing, African crime fiction points to the relations between Africa and America. Gilroy’s Black Atlantic puts forward that race is fluid and ever-changing, rather than static. That it is transnational and intercultural, rather than national. I am arguing that African crime fiction represents race as a transnational or diasporic phenomenon while at the same time engaging with the notion that race is closely bound up with both nationality and ethnicity.

So, look at the detective hero figure Ishmael. He is an African-American who returns to Africa, gesturing, of course, to transatlantic slavery and colonialism. He’s neither African nor American – he is both. The novel explores his hybridity. At the same time, the novel presents Kenya as nation marred by ethnic clashes and wide-scale civil unrest.

African crime fiction, being the second most popular literary genre on the continent after romance, is worthy of study because of its accessibility, wide-spread, diverse readership and also its capacity for socio-political analysis. It is the ideal vehicle for such pertinent ‘detection’.

This article is part of a series called Decolonising the Black Atlantic in which black and queer women literary academics rethink and disrupt traditional Black Atlantic studies. The series is based on papers delivered at the Revising the Black Atlantic: African Diaspora Perspectives colloquium at the Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Study.The Conversation

Aretha Phiri, Senior lecturer, Department of Literary Studies in English, Rhodes University and Sam Naidu, Professor, Department of Literary Studies in English, Rhodes University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

From Christie to Chandler and beyond – five detective novels to investigate during lockdown



Hard-boiled detective: Elliott Gould in The Long Goodbye (1973).
Allstar/Cinetext/MGM

James Peacock, Keele University

If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it’s that humans are connected, and that an individual’s actions can have profound consequences for the local community, the nation, and beyond. A good detective story, whether it takes place within an English country house or travels across international borders, reminds readers of this fundamental truth.

Detectives might be charming, eccentric amateurs like Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple, Dorothy L. Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey, for example – or tough, world-weary professionals such as Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe or Ian Rankin’s John Rebus.

But in both country-house and hard-boiled traditions their function is similar. They link disparate individuals and communities as they reconstruct events, and raise the possibility that, whoever pulled the trigger or administered the poison, we all share some responsibility for allowing such things to happen.

The selection below, I hope, reflects the genre’s diversity. What connects these books, for all their stylistic variety, is a preoccupation with links between people and communities and a desire to explore the implications of every action, deliberate or accidental.

Metta Fuller Victor: The Dead Letter (1866)

The first full-length detective novel in American literature, The Dead Letter, published under the pen-name Seeley Register, is a curious hybrid. Featuring a country house that might be haunted, a clairvoyant child who – conveniently – is the detective’s daughter, and scenes of deathly pale women wandering moonlit gardens, mourning lost lovers, it shows how 19th-century detectives emerged from Gothic literature.

First American detective novel.
Amazon

It is also a sentimental love story and a meditation on the corrupting power of money.

Like the Edgar Allan Poe stories which influenced it, and the Sherlock Holmes tales that followed, its narrator is not the detective, but the detective’s friend who – like the reader – is inclined to romanticise the sleuth’s heightened abilities.

The Dead Letter can be florid and outlandish, but it combines its eclectic elements to highly entertaining effect.

Raymond Chandler: The Long Goodbye (1953)

Philip Marlowe, the hero of seven novels and numerous short stories by Raymond Chandler, is tall, handsome, witty and admirably cynical about the effects of wealth. I’d love to recommend all the Marlowe stories and, given that its author intended it to be the last, The Long Goodbye might seem an idiosyncratic choice.

Pulp fiction (cover art by Harvey Kidder).
admiral.ironbombs via Flickr, CC BY-SA

Stranger still, its pleasures are less to do with the detective thriller’s traditional virtues – intricate plotting, dynamic action – and more with the air of nostalgic melancholia Chandler conjures. There are murders, of course, and there is the vivid evocation of Los Angeles in its grubby splendour. There is also Marlowe’s trademark gift for metaphor: at the beginning, watching two people arguing outside a club, he remarks:

The girl gave him a look which ought to have stuck at least four inches out of his back.

But the novel’s heart is the unlikely friendship between Marlowe and Terry Lennox, a rich, dipsomaniac veteran locked in a loveless marriage, emotionally scarred by his combat experiences. As its title suggests, this epic and heartbreaking novel is about goodbyes: to innocence, to friendship, to the conventions of the detective story, and to an America untainted by consumerism.

Agatha Christie: Cat Among the Pigeons (1959)

Christie remains the pre-eminent writer of the “whodunit”. Her sheer prolificacy masks the fact that she is a consistently innovative plotter, unafraid to experiment with point-of-view in sometimes radical ways. She also produces stories that are dark, disturbing, and morally ambiguous – characteristics highlighted in recent adaptations such as the BBC’s version of The Pale Horse.

Mallory Towers with added murder.
AgathaChristie.com

Though not among her most celebrated novels, Cat Among the Pigeons delightfully combines international espionage and country house mystery, with the “country house” being a prestigious girls’ prep school in England where members of staff start dying in suspicious circumstances.

Ingenious and laced with cruelty, it might be read as a story about Great Britain’s declining empire, or the fragile isolation of the upper classes, or it might simply be read as Mallory Towers with added murder.

Paul Auster: The New York Trilogy (1987)

This comprises three distinctive tales: City of Glass, Ghosts and The Locked Room, that conspire to connect in surprising ways. Often regarded as a model of “antidetection”, Auster’s trilogy frequently confounds expectations, promising stock elements of the hard-boiled story – the enigmatic loner gumshoe, the femme fatale, the dirty city – before jettisoning the cliches and exploring new territory.

Elaborate puzzles.
Amazon

Auster’s New York is a labyrinth ruled by chance, where one’s doppelganger can appear for no reason, where a man can devote his life to collecting and renaming bits of rubbish, and where “Paul Auster” can appear as a character. These are elaborate puzzles yet highly readable thrillers.

They are perfect stories for lockdown because they are about the consolations of reading and the paradoxical truth that the deeper into solitude we go, the more we understand our vital connection to others.

Walter Mosley: Devil in a Blue Dress (1990)

This is the first thriller starring Ezekiel “Easy” Rawlins, an African-American factory worker in the Watts area of Los Angeles, who falls into detection when a stranger enters his local bar and offers him a missing persons job. Mosley’s work exemplifies the ways in which detective stories, tightly bound to specific places and times, function not only as entertainment but also as historical documents.

Realistic and wry account of race relations.
Amazon

Devil in a Blue Dress, through energetic vernacular dialogue, realistic situations and wry observations on race relations, brilliantly evokes the lives of African-American families who moved from the southern states to California during the Second Great Migration.

More than the talented amateurs of the country house mystery, who possess a timeless quality and whose successful investigations tend to reinstate cosy normality – and Marlowe, a 20th-century knight errant with a nostalgic impulse – Easy Rawlins demonstrates that detectives are shaped by historical circumstances. He also happens to have one of the most captivatingly unstable sidekicks in all detective writing.

Detectives are people who move, tracing links between people, places and times. They are also expert readers: of clues, people, situations. During lockdown, these stories can transport us elsewhere and remind us that reading is an empathetic act, a way of reaching out and trying to connect with others.The Conversation

James Peacock, Senior Lecturer in English and American Literatures, Keele University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

‘Freshly cut grass – or bile-infused Exorcist vomit?’: how crime books embraced lurid green



University of Sydney Library

Carolyn McKay, University of Sydney

Green is a colour that evokes nature, fecundity, sustainability.

At the traffic lights it signals go; on a boat, starboard.

It’s a soft celadon glaze; an intense Van Eyck wedding dress; frothy, aromatic matcha tea; aurora borealis; a meditative praying mantis. It’s jungle camouflage, Joyce’s snotgreen sea, green mould and Martians.

If green had a smell, would it be freshly cut grass – or bile-infused Exorcist vomit?

Green, like all colours, has innumerable meanings and cultural associations. My interest in green stems from the books I curated in Lurid: Crime Paperbacks and Pulp Fiction.

My favourite books in Lurid are the green Penguin crime series from the 1960s. Penguin was founded by Allen Lane in 1935 and revolutionised publishing through a focus on well-designed, pocket-sized and affordable high-quality literature, as distinct from mere pulp.




Read more:
Friday essay: the complex, contradictory pleasures of pulp fiction


The covers were standardised yet stylish and instantly recognisable: two horizontal bands of colour separated by a central white band featuring the author’s name and title in Gill Sans font. Initially designed by Edward Young, the aesthetic was strengthened in 1947 by German typographer Jan Tschichold’s Penguin Composition Rules.

The cheerful Penguin logo, also designed by Young, was the only pictorial element on these early covers. In Jeremy Lewis’s Penguin Special, he writes Penguin eschewed the lurid picture jackets – “breastsellers” – adopted in the US in favour of English restraint and text-only designs.

The books were colour-coded by subject: the now classic orange for fiction, dark blue for biographies, red for drama. Of the first ten Penguin books published, two were crime and colour-coded green.

Since curating the Lurid exhibition, I’ve been wondering: why green? Why not blood-spatter red or noir black?

The affect of green

As a visual artist as well as a visual criminologist, I have a great interest in colour and its affective qualities.

The initial green used on Penguin crime covers was a slightly earthy green, not unlike terre verte. This is a soft green pigment traditionally used as a cool element when mixing flesh tones in a limited palette of flake white, yellow ochre, Venetian red and ivory black, depending on the subject’s skin tones.

Terre verte is often used as a grisaille or underpainting in figurative works and portraiture. But there are so many other irresistible greens in oil painting: cobalt, emerald, viridian, phthalo, cadmium, sap, olive, chromium.

The original earthen green hue of Penguin crime was brightened in the 1960s when Italian art director Germano Facetti challenged the traditional Penguin design rules and hired Polish graphic designer Romek Marber to revitalise the book covers.

The “Marber Grid” and pictorial covers placed the typography and Penguin logo in the top third of the cover and allowed two-thirds of the layout for striking modernist illustration and graphic design.

The covers of Dorothy L. Sayers’ Busman’s Honeymoon and Lord Peter Views the Body show the distinctive and recurrent white stick figure Marber applied only to her books.

The Busman’s Honeymoon, in particular, shows Marber at his best. The geometric design evokes a staircase with a corpse – the identifying device of the white cut-out – at the bottom.

Marber’s last Penguin crime cover design was for Ellery Queen’s The Scarlet Letters in 1965. With the letters X and Y that, in the novel, a dying man traces in his own blood, the design introduces trickles of red, photography and a solid black background.

Looking at these book covers today, there is power in the simplicity of these designs with their limited colour palette, elements of photomontage, collage, drawing and geometric pattern, and use of sans serif font.

And, of course, there is the bright green.

The Penguin crime series is not the only one to feature green. Launched by Collins in the 1930s, the White Circle Crime Club used a bold graphic design featuring two menacing figures and variations on a restricted palette of green, black and white.

This green branding was an intentional strategy to compete directly with the green Penguins.

Green to kill

Why green? Perhaps the answer lies in green’s association with toxicity.

The 18th century’s Scheele’s green, derived from arsenic, was vivid and alluring. The 19th century’s emerald green was highly desirable, and used extensively in clothing and wallpaper, including that of William Morris. Unfortunately, it was horribly poisonous: arsenic fumes from Emerald Green wallpaper killed.




Read more:
How we discovered three poisonous books in our university library


Green, then, is deadly. Green radioluminescent paint shone brightly on watches and caused radium poisoning; green chlorine gas was first used as a chemical weapon in the first world war.

The green of absinthe’s la fée verte, the green fairy, is intoxicating, once thought to be hallucinogenic, and an ingredient in Ernest Hemingway’s Death in the Afternoon cocktail.

With these lethal associations the green of crime fiction starts to make sense.

Sometimes, you can judge a book by its cover.The Conversation

Carolyn McKay, Senior Lecturer – Criminal Law, Procedure, Digital Criminology, University of Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Life sentences – what creative writing by prisoners tells us about the inside



from www.shutterstock.com

Dr Michael X. Savvas, Flinders University

A recent project to encourage South Australian prisoners to write provides insights into how prisoners may benefit from written expression.

The project, Life Sentences, gave more than 70 contributors professional feedback, certificates of merit and publication in a booklet produced annually from 2017 to 2019.

The submissions revealed a surprising diversity of topics, considerable talent and self-awareness.

The back story

Life Sentences began as an offshoot of Art by Prisoners, a visual arts competition organised by Jeremy Ryder, who wanted to showcase art from prisoners across South Australia.

We wondered if prisoners may also want to express themselves through writing. Department for Correctional Services officers promoted Life Sentences and prisoners responded with interest. After the program, Life Sentences booklets were available to the public at the Art by Prisoners exhibitions.

Prisoners also provided cover designs for the project.
Life Sentences, Author provided

Firsthand writing from and about prisons isn’t new. Prison literature has a rich tradition, with writers such as Jack London, O. Henry and Oscar Wilde writing about their experiences in jail. The nine years Dostoyevsky spent in Siberian imprisonment and exile gave him the focus and depth of understanding to become one of the greats.

Conversely, illiteracy in Australian prisons is prevalent. A recent government report found around one in three Australian prisoners had only completed Year 9 (or under) at secondary school. One aim of Life Sentences was to provide encouraging feedback for prisoners of varying literacy levels. Although not all of the writing submitted was grammatically perfect, feedback focused on what the prisoners did well in their writing. This was seen as a first step in getting prisoners to enjoy writing and begin the adventure of literacy.

Stories of pain and humour

What Life Sentences contributors wrote about was telling. Most entries directly related to what American criminologist Greshem Sykes called the “pains of imprisonment” in 1958. This wasn’t surprising, and it is hoped writing about such pains was healing for the writers. What was more surprising was the number of entries not directly about imprisonment.

Of 77 contributors over three years, 26 expressed pain, fear and depression from imprisonment (even suicidal thoughts), and often how much they missed their children or loved ones. The heartbreaking lines from a 26-year-old woman’s poem called Little Treasure illustrate this:

But I will never forget

His sweet little smile

My darling little boy

Is now their child.

Although male and female prisoners both expressed tender feelings towards their lost partners, the male writers would at times also express sexual longing for their loved ones or for imagined partners. In Prisoner’s Lament, a 61-year-old male wrote:

I can but lament the way my life went,

Before I ended up here,

Instead of a gun and a greed-driven bent,

I’d be armed with a babe and a beer.

Eight of the poems – both fictional and autobiographical pieces – describe prison life using humour. In Lean Cuisine, a man, 45, wrote of the food, gloryless food he got over the course of a week:

Friday’s no surprise with some sort of sloppy pasta

Nothing is as bad as that tomato disaster.

Saturday is early lockup: chicken wings and rice

Some blokes sprint for seconds, yelling ‘This shit’s so fucking nice!‘

Although some contributors wrote about their abusive childhoods, others wrote with nostalgia about their upbringings. A 51-year-old man’s poem, Edge of the World, tells of spending a day on a jetty with his father and siblings:

Like well-practised commandos

we inched along the side rail

dodging gut stains

jagged notches and salty scales.

One prisoner wrote a nostalgic poem about his childhood.
Shutterstock

Eight entries philosophised about life, and two honoured religious deities. Two contributors wrote about their lives, with the goal of inspiring others to stay out of jail and lead happier, more productive lives.

Five entries pondered the personal meanings of art or writing. Other themes explored drugs and alcohol, futuristic societies, rock band membership, friendship, political statements (Fuck the System), dreams and the supernatural (The Love of a Lycan was a song about a werewolf). Three entries were hip hop raps.

Being recognised

The Western Australian literary journal Westerly included several of the 2017 entries in a special edition about South Australian writing.

Hidden talents emerged. A 22-year-old male rapper demonstrated advanced verbal skills in his Laggin Rap:

I want my chance to climb but I’m firmly underground

proud to get his lips clappin louder than a thunder cloud.

Man, Hip Hop’s beautiful — totally therapeutical —

better health benefits than pharmaceuticals.

Another contributor submitted two novels in 2017 and two more in the following competitions. Although already an accomplished writer, he incorporated the feedback he received in the first year. His manuscript was an exciting adventure set in 18th century France. The novel begins:

The battlefields were torn by heavy hooves and ran red with blood. Pieces of meat that used to be men lay tossed about and were scattered in windrows. Mud made it difficult to distinguish between uniforms, yet they found uniformity in a death that made a mockery of it all. It was not yet lunchtime.

The same author printed, bound and illustrated his own novels. He and other contributors also revealed a pattern by the third edition of Life Sentences: a growing awareness of their new identities as writers.

Life Sentences is giving prisoners a chance to write expressively.
Shutterstock

What Prisoners Need

Australian prison libraries are often inadequate for supporting prisoners who seek to improve their literacy skills.

Knowing what prisoners like to write about could inform decisions about the types of books to stock in prisons to encourage reading and writing. Prisoners who wish to write motivational books could be exposed to notable authors in this genre, such as Tony Robbins and Dale Carnegie.

Education is a powerful way to prevent prisoners from reoffending once they leave jail.

To stay out of prison, ex-prisoners need to achieve what criminologists call “secondary desistance”, meaning both the prisoner and society see the prisoner as changed and occupying a law-abiding role in society. Writing might be one way to achieve this and open up new career paths. Writing may also allow prisoners and “civilians” to connect. As one Life Sentences writer put it:

Without seeing their individual faces, I recognise that I am part of the greater consciousness that makes up the brotherhood of writers across the world.The Conversation

Dr Michael X. Savvas, Senior Lecturer in the Transition Office (PhD in Creative Writing), Flinders University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

I’m a novelist – and this is why I choose middle-aged women as the heroes of my crime thrillers



Motortion Films via Shutterstock

Emily Bernhard Jackson, University of Exeter

Mystery is the bestselling genre in literature. Crime/mystery fiction, to give the genre its full title, beats inspirational, science fiction, horror and apparently even romance to take the top spot.

And why not? There’s someone for everyone in crime/mystery – elderly lady sleuths, amateur Palestinian sleuths, professional Belgian sleuths, thoughtful Scottish police officers, embittered Scottish police officers, damaged Irish police officers, weary Scandinavian police officers, former army officer detectives, amateur girl detectives, sad drunk amateur girl detectives. There’s even a detective who partners up with a skeleton.

What there doesn’t seem to be much of in mystery fiction, however, is female detectives who begin detecting in middle age (two cases in point: Sara Paretsky’s V.I. Warshawski was 32 when we began to follow her adventures, while Patricia Cornwell’s Kay Scarpetta was 36). Women in the 40-to-60 range don’t get much of a showing as main characters in literature generally, so maybe it’s no surprise that they don’t show up as headliners in the mystery genre.

But it’s a surprise if you’re a woman in your 40s who is beginning to write mystery novels – which not so long ago I was. And while it’s a cliche that people write what they know, when I decided to write a mystery I entered into that cliche wholeheartedly. I started writing mysteries in my 40s – and I made my detectives two women in their 40s.

Two middle-aged American women and a dead man in a bowl of Vichyssoise.
Amazon

But while I designed my detectives in part to mirror myself, I also chose their age for entirely different reasons. For all its advances and improvements, contemporary culture remains uncomfortable, not just with middle-aged women, but to an even greater degree with contentedly single middle-aged women – and to an even greater degree than that with childless women who are childless by choice. I wanted to confront this odd aversion head on, so I made sure that between them my detectives fill all these categories.

This decision is a small one, but for me it engaged with a question I’ve long struggled with, the question of what, intellectually, literature is supposed to do. Should it report on the world as it is, or should it model the world as it might – could, should, would – be?

Angry women

Recent fiction may not have been filled with middle-aged women, but it has been filled with angry ones. It’s jam packed with dystopian models of female repression and with women and men implacably set against one other: look at Naomi Alderman’s The Power, Leni Zumas’s Red Clocks, Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments. As I began to create my fictional world, I was troubled by the question of whether these outpourings of rage, all justified, all earned, are enough.




Read more:
Review: The Testaments – Margaret Atwood’s sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale


In one way this literature is unquestionably good: female rage is something else culture has assiduously avoided considering for centuries, and during those centuries women have been subjugated, silenced, used and abused in ways that deserve outpourings of anger.

The sleuths return.
Amazon

Nor is this landscape of female repression changing quickly, and there is value in forcing it before readers’ eyes. In a recent article for The Guardian about the Staunch Prize, the new award for the best crime/mystery novel that does not feature violence against women, the novelist Kaite Welsh wrote that she wouldn’t “sanitise my writing in service of some fictional, feminist utopia … my work lies in marrying my imagination with the ugly truth”. This is an important argument.

Modeling the future

But while I don’t care about the absence of feminist utopias, I do care about the absence of writing that models the future we want. What will it be like, the world we’re striving for where the playing field is level and men and women are just people being people together? I believe that we can only imagine based on what we’ve seen, and that it’s part of literature’s job to help us see what doesn’t yet exist but could.

For this reason, although I grounded my novels firmly in the present (well, Death in Paris is set in 2014 and The Books of the Dead in 2016), I made some specific choices about that present. In my books, every person in a powerful position is a woman. Department heads and doctors, sources of knowledge and implacable foes: all are female.

More importantly, as far as I was concerned, no one draws attention to that. It’s so normal as to be unworthy of note. Nor does anyone comment on the fact that both my detectives are childless, and one remains happily unmarried in her mid-40s. Both of these detectives are heterosexual, but I made that decision so I could give each a husband or boyfriend who sees them as an intellectual and emotional equal, and for whom that equality is also the norm. The women in my books have and enjoy good sex, and they have and enjoy good conversations – almost none of them about men.

My books are full of oversights and omissions, and I’m far from satisfied with them. But what I aimed to do, and am still trying to do, is to augment the justifiable depictions of anger, the honest depictions of ongoing brutality and violence against women, with a small model that allows for a morsel of hope.The Conversation

Emily Bernhard Jackson, Lecturer in English, University of Exeter

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

I’m a novelist – and this is why I choose middle-aged women as the heroes of my crime thrillers



Motortion Films via Shutterstock

Emily Bernhard Jackson, University of Exeter

Mystery is the bestselling genre in literature. Crime/mystery fiction, to give the genre its full title, beats inspirational, science fiction, horror and apparently even romance to take the top spot.

And why not? There’s someone for everyone in crime/mystery – elderly lady sleuths, amateur Palestinian sleuths, professional Belgian sleuths, thoughtful Scottish police officers, embittered Scottish police officers, damaged Irish police officers, weary Scandinavian police officers, former army officer detectives, amateur girl detectives, sad drunk amateur girl detectives. There’s even a detective who partners up with a skeleton.

What there doesn’t seem to be much of in mystery fiction, however, is female detectives who begin detecting in middle age (two cases in point: Sara Paretsky’s V.I. Warshawski was 32 when we began to follow her adventures, while Patricia Cornwell’s Kay Scarpetta was 36). Women in the 40-to-60 range don’t get much of a showing as main characters in literature generally, so maybe it’s no surprise that they don’t show up as headliners in the mystery genre.

But it’s a surprise if you’re a woman in your 40s who is beginning to write mystery novels – which not so long ago I was. And while it’s a cliche that people write what they know, when I decided to write a mystery I entered into that cliche wholeheartedly. I started writing mysteries in my 40s – and I made my detectives two women in their 40s.

Two middle-aged American women and a dead man in a bowl of Vichyssoise.
Amazon

But while I designed my detectives in part to mirror myself, I also chose their age for entirely different reasons. For all its advances and improvements, contemporary culture remains uncomfortable, not just with middle-aged women, but to an even greater degree with contentedly single middle-aged women – and to an even greater degree than that with childless women who are childless by choice. I wanted to confront this odd aversion head on, so I made sure that between them my detectives fill all these categories.

This decision is a small one, but for me it engaged with a question I’ve long struggled with, the question of what, intellectually, literature is supposed to do. Should it report on the world as it is, or should it model the world as it might – could, should, would – be?

Angry women

Recent fiction may not have been filled with middle-aged women, but it has been filled with angry ones. It’s jam packed with dystopian models of female repression and with women and men implacably set against one other: look at Naomi Alderman’s The Power, Leni Zumas’s Red Clocks, Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments. As I began to create my fictional world, I was troubled by the question of whether these outpourings of rage, all justified, all earned, are enough.




Read more:
Review: The Testaments – Margaret Atwood’s sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale


In one way this literature is unquestionably good: female rage is something else culture has assiduously avoided considering for centuries, and during those centuries women have been subjugated, silenced, used and abused in ways that deserve outpourings of anger.

The sleuths return.
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Nor is this landscape of female repression changing quickly, and there is value in forcing it before readers’ eyes. In a recent article for The Guardian about the Staunch Prize, the new award for the best crime/mystery novel that does not feature violence against women, the novelist Kaite Welsh wrote that she wouldn’t “sanitise my writing in service of some fictional, feminist utopia … my work lies in marrying my imagination with the ugly truth”. This is an important argument.

Modeling the future

But while I don’t care about the absence of feminist utopias, I do care about the absence of writing that models the future we want. What will it be like, the world we’re striving for where the playing field is level and men and women are just people being people together? I believe that we can only imagine based on what we’ve seen, and that it’s part of literature’s job to help us see what doesn’t yet exist but could.

For this reason, although I grounded my novels firmly in the present (well, Death in Paris is set in 2014 and The Books of the Dead in 2016), I made some specific choices about that present. In my books, every person in a powerful position is a woman. Department heads and doctors, sources of knowledge and implacable foes: all are female.

More importantly, as far as I was concerned, no one draws attention to that. It’s so normal as to be unworthy of note. Nor does anyone comment on the fact that both my detectives are childless, and one remains happily unmarried in her mid-40s. Both of these detectives are heterosexual, but I made that decision so I could give each a husband or boyfriend who sees them as an intellectual and emotional equal, and for whom that equality is also the norm. The women in my books have and enjoy good sex, and they have and enjoy good conversations – almost none of them about men.

My books are full of oversights and omissions, and I’m far from satisfied with them. But what I aimed to do, and am still trying to do, is to augment the justifiable depictions of anger, the honest depictions of ongoing brutality and violence against women, with a small model that allows for a morsel of hope.The Conversation

Emily Bernhard Jackson, Lecturer in English, University of Exeter

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

2019 Ngaio Marsh Award Winner


The link below is to an article reporting on the winner of the 2019 Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel, Fiona Kidman for ‘This Mortal Boy.’

For more visit:
https://www.booksandpublishing.com.au/articles/2019/09/16/139302/ngaio-marsh-award-2019-winners-announced/

2019 Davitt Awards Winners


The link below is to an article that takes a look at the winners of the 2019 Davitt Awards for crime books by Australian women writers.

For more visit:
https://www.booksandpublishing.com.au/articles/2019/09/02/138489/the-ruin-wins-best-novel-at-2019-davitt-awards/