Monday, April 28, 2008

Fusing a Visceral Impulse with a Cerebral One

David Lehman on the broad appeal of crime fiction:

From the start the detective story offered a formula or a form that was elastic enough to allow for infinite repetition and variation. The plot centered on life-and-death matters that were stark enough to please a mass readership. On the other hand, the hero was distinguished by properties of mind that ensured the interest of an intellectual class. To this day, no other category of popular fiction so cleverly fuses a visceral impulse with a cerebral one—the physical action of the crime, the mental action of the detection—or so easily accommodates the best efforts of the Oxford don and the former steelworker, the prolific spinster and the pseudonymous journalist, the hard-edged experimentalist and the hard-line feminist, the Anglophile and the Anglophobe...

From David Lehman, The Perfect Murder: A Study in Detection (2nd edition, 2000).

3 comments:

Matthew Tiffany said...

It does, doesn't it? Auster's NYT comes to mind. Of course.

I would venture that "ocean vessels with many passengers" offers, as a framework, a similar elasticity.

jenclair said...

Excellent evaluation of the appeal!

Seachanges said...

Yes, somewhat like those intelligent whodunit tv series - it makes you feel so much better when there's brainwork attached when watching them. Or is that being a snob in the true British sense of the word? (I'm NOT British by the way...)