The Politics of Crime Stories
The New Rambler
7 Pages Posted: 10 Jan 2022
Date Written: December 16, 2021
Book review of "Unwilling Executioner: Crime Fiction and the State," by Andrew Pepper.
To what extent has popular crime fiction served to defamiliarize and critique the everyday injustices of criminal justice? "Unwilling Executioner" offers a wide-ranging global tour of the development of crime fiction over the last three centuries, with a focus on the political orientations of specific writers and works. But the book has relatively little to say about how crime fiction has responded to the changing politics and institutions of criminal justice. Instead, the book’s main interest is how various works of crime fiction express a tension between “Marxist” and “liberal” views of markets and the state.
Literary scholarship would be well-equipped to contribute to our understanding of historical differences in the ideology of crime and punishment, in part because close attention to language and literary form can reveal subtleties, contradictions, ambiguities, and conflicting ways of thinking that sometimes receive too little attention in social scientific analyses. Can comparisons of U.S. and European crime fiction shed any light on why the culture of criminal justice in the United States has tended to be harsher than in Europe? Can the global development of crime fiction help us understand the apparently universal tendency to condemn subordinated groups as “criminals”?
Keywords: crime fiction, criminal justice, political theory, literary criticism
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