Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Crime Fiction and the Closet

When you spend a lot of time reading and thinking about vintage crime fiction you start to notice certain misconceptions and omissions in books on the genre.  As readers of this blog (and my books) will know, I have written a great deal about how the almost exclusive focus of so many critics on just a few crime writers has created something of a false narrative of Golden Age mystery strictly as a contest between cozy British Crime Queens on the one hand and tough American hard-boiled writers on the other.

Another interesting phenomenon I have noticed is how comparatively understudied in books have been lgbtq writers of as well as lgbtq aspects to crime fiction in the Golden Age and even, to a lesser extent, up to the Stonewall Riots, an epochal event in lgbtq history.

Murder Will Out
The last couple of months I have been editing a collection of 23 essays by 17 contributors on both lgtbq writers of and lgtbq themes in crime fiction extending from the Victorian era to the eve of Stonewall.  It has been a fascinating project and I hope that the book will illuminate a neglected corner in the house of mystery.

Much of this period is seen as belonging to the era of the closet in crime fiction, when lgbtq characters depicted by lgbtq and non-lgtbq writers alike had to be carefully encoded or condemned.

Yet when one actually goes looking for this material in fiction from the era, one finds more of it (and more interestingly presented) than many may think.

The essays included in the new book deal with queer aspects to the the crime fiction of a diverse group of both lgtbq and non-lgtbq writers, including Crime Queens and hard-boiled boys, but also more obscure authors.

Writers whose work is discussed in the book include Fergus Hume, Dorothy L. Sayers, Ngaio Marsh, Agatha Christie, Gladys Mitchell, Josephine Tey, G. D. H. and Margaret Cole, C. H. B. Kitchin, Richard Wilson Webb, Hugh Callingham Wheeler, Anthony Boucher, Todd Downing, Rufus King, Mignon Eberhart, Frank Walford, Ross Macdonald, Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, Mickey Spillane, Margaret Millar, Gore Vidal, Beverley Nichols, Nancy Spain, Patricia Highsmith, Joseph Hansen and George Baxt.

The contributors are J. C. Bernthal, Brittain Bright, John Curran. Rick Cypert, James Doig, Curtis Evans (aka The Passing Tramp), Wayne Gunn, Nick Jones, Josh Lanyon, Michael Moon, Tom Nolan, J. F. Norris, Moira Redmond, Charles J. Rzepka, Bruce Shaw, Noah Stewart and Lucy Sussex.  I plan to have a series of interviews coming up with this group of individuals (myself excepted!) all during this year, leading up to the publication of the book.

21 comments:

  1. Yay! And me-thinks one of your contributors should interview you, just to round it out nicely. :-)

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    1. Bev, I will accept any and all invitations. ;)

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  2. Incredibly exciting news, Curt! I devoured the Dave Brandstetter mysteries and remember enjoying the three Edgar Box novels, although I remember nothing about the books. I can't wait to read this and explore it in more mystery fiction.

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    1. Thanks, Brad! I hope it's a project that will interest people. I've been reading the DB books myself and am struck by the resemblance to Ross Macdonald. Though the essay in this book deals with Hansen before Dave. "Spillane in mink"--I always loved that blurb on the Box books.

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  3. I am surprised Raymond Chandler doesn't make this list. Some of his books contain very rich portraits of male characters and their motives, including somewhat intense relationships with Marlowe. This contrasts with his often card-board stiff female characters. The novel version (not the film) of "Farewll, My Lovely" is a good example of this.

    Another example is Anthony Boucher's "Nine Times Nine" where one of the key characters is clearly homosexual.

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    1. Hi, indeed, that character is discussed briefly in an essay. Mention is also made of Hammett and Chandler. Also Mickey Spillane. Remember, I said "some" of the writers. But I went ahead and added them to the list.

      Chandler's quirks have been discussed before, of course, but in this book tom Nolan, for example, offers the definitive piece, I would argue on Ross Macdonald and lgbtq. If there's a sequel, though, maybe you can do a Chandler piece!

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  4. Sayers, Christie and Boucher were lgbtq?

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    1. A writer can have lgbtq aspects to her crime fiction without being gay, of course, so, as stated above, some of these writers are straight. We believe in diversity.

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  5. brilliant, have often thought this was a major neglected area in fiction of this period, will hunt it down...

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    1. David, it should be out near the end of the year, will keep everyone posted!

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  6. Congrats Curtis - very much look forward to hearing more!

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  7. Glad to be in such exalted company...

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  8. That looks very interesting. Have you included A A Milne's Red House Mystery?

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  9. Sounds like a very interesting book, Curt. And a nice group of contributors.

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  10. Interesting. In my blog today, coincidentally, I write about the themes I touch on in my crime fiction, and one I include without fanfare is that my protagonist's world is like the real world. There are gay men in my books but it's not commented on - they're not a cause or a curiosity, neither closeted nor activists, they're just some of the people in her life.

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    1. I think queer characters appear more in Golden Age crime fiction than is often recognized, in part because not everything is spelled out for readers. Traditional (what you might call heteronormative) readings tend to miss these things. Of course to day there is so much more freedom in this regard. I do think sometimes modern crime writers turn their gay characters into slogan shouters. They feel less like real people to me when that happens. See PD James and Ruth Rendell, for example. James gay male characters tend to strike me as rather artificial creations.

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  11. Whoops - in case anyone was interested, I should have included the URL: http://7criminalminds.blogspot.com

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    1. Thanks for the link, Susan, will check it out.

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