Author, critic, and traveller Marina Vaizey in her second Lockdown Essay writes about her favourite story material: crime and pulp fiction.
Murder! Violence! Terror! Mayhem! Chaos! Destruction! And even quotidian life. In ordinary guises. John D MacDonald, Daniel Silva, Robert B Parker, David Baldacci, James Sallis, Attica Locke, Don Winslow, Robert Crais, John Sandford, C J Box, Walter Mosley, Barry Eisler, why are these and scores of others the authors to whom I turn, my comfort stories, as they are for millions? How can it be comforting to be told about the many ways in which people meet death in dreadful ways and about the horrible ways in which people treat each other, and to be shown the myriad motives, from greed – personal and corporate – lust for power, distorted politics, sadistic impulses, and the like? Yes it is all fictional and evil doers often meet their justified ends. For many of the flawed characters who feature so large there are various forms of redemption. Moreover there are enough echoes of the real world for us to suspend disbelief.
Both men and women enjoy thrillers, mystery, and crime. Yet it may still feel not quite respectable, somehow a guilty (sorry!) pleasure. Do these novels so often categorized as genre offer something the literary novel does not? The market is enormous, perhaps the largest in publishing. It is a cliché which may be true that only the Bible – say - outsells Agatha Christie. And then there are films and television, either original or adapted from novels.