New crime fiction: revival of interest in traditional mysteries

From a comprehensive history of the genre to new work from today’s exponents of the craft

 The Ruins  is Suede bass player Mat Osman’s first novel, and what an expansively imagined, astonishingly beautiful piece of work it is. Photograph: Visual China Group via Getty

The Ruins is Suede bass player Mat Osman’s first novel, and what an expansively imagined, astonishingly beautiful piece of work it is. Photograph: Visual China Group via Getty

Fifteen years ago, Raymond Chandler’s damning verdict on the traditional Golden Age mystery – “If it started out to be about real people, they must very soon do unreal things in order to form the artificial pattern required by the plot. When they did unreal things, they ceased to be real themselves” – was still pretty much taken for granted in crime writing circles, and writers who persisted in that mode were disparaged for writing “cosies’”.

Dashiell Hammett had taken murder out of the Venetian vase and dropped it into the alley, and the hard boiled revolution led by these two men had an irrevocable influence on writers who believed crime fiction could and should be about more than “an exhausting concatenation of insignificant clues”. (It should be said that a great deal of this critique was often heavily gendered: in his history of the genre, Bloody Murder, Julian Symons thought it sufficiently devastating to condemn Gaudy Night by Dorothy L Sayers as “essentially a ‘women’s novel’”.)

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