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Ernest Mandel. Delightful Murder: A Social History of the Crime Story. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1984. 152 pp. $19.50 cloth; pb. $9.95.
Bernard Benstock, ed. Art in Crime Writing: Essays on Detective Fiction. New York: St. Martin's, 1983. 218 pp. $22.50.
George N. Dove. The Boys from Grover Avenue: Ed McBain's 87th Precinct Novels. Bowling Green: Bowling Green State U Popular P, 1985. 166 pp. $17.95 cloth; pb. $7.95.
Lars Ole Sauerberg. Secret Agents in Fiction: Ian Fleming, John le Carré and Len Deighton. New York: St. Martin's, 1984. 250 pp. $19.95.
David Monaghan. The Novels of John le Carré: The Art of Survival. New York: Blackwell, 1985. 207 pp. $19.95.

The central argument of Ernest Mandel's Delightful Murder is that the history of the crime story reflects the development of bourgeois society. Under the term "crime story" he includes detective stories, spy stories, arid dirillers, but the detective story is the main focus of his study. Mandel begins with early examples of "good bandits" who rebelled against the ruling classes, the Best known of whom is Robin Hood. However, when the bourgeoisie gained control of society, their [End Page 364] need for law and order made the outlaw unpopular, and the noble bandit evolved into the evil criminal. Thereafter, with each change in the structure of society, a new type of crime story became popular: with the rise of the police force, police and detectives appeared in crime fiction; brilliant sleuths such as Poe's Dupin and Doyle's Holmes upheld upper-class values; country house and drawing-room murders, especially popular between the two World Wars, showed bourgeois readers looking for prewar nostalgia; as crime became more organized, the brilliant amateur sleuth could not deal effectively with its complexities, and he was replaced by the team efforts of police procedurals; spy stories developed as espionage increased during the two World Wars. After World War Two violent thrillers became common as criminal violence itself exploded, and political thrillers followed the increase in international conspiracies and terrorism. It is interesting that the protagonist of the modern spy story and political thriller has circled back to the figure of the noble bandit, rebelling against the forces directing society because society and crime have interpenetrated; however, unlike the noble bandit of earlier periods, the modern rebel-hero has no true goals or values because of the confused ethics of decadent western bourgeois society. Other matters Mandel touches on are the parallels between the spy story and the classical detective story and the relationship between the rise of paperbacks and the mass consumption of crime stories. Mandel sees the crime story as a temporary, vicarious escape for the reader from monotonous middle-class life, an escape that acts as an opiate for sufferers from the ills of bourgeois society yet at the same time reassures readers of the permanence of its values.

Mandel states clearly that his study uses the dialectical methods of Hegel and Marx to view the crime story as a social phenomenon rather than as literature. He sees Marxist implications in the hard-boiled detective story: "The relative decline of pure intellect, pure ratio, in the detective story is a striking reflection of the relative decline of rationalism in bourgeois ideology, and of the rational (or allegedly rational) behaviour of homo oeconomicus under mature and late capitalism." He also finds traces of capitalism in the crime story: "Instead of human conflict, there is competition between abstract intelligences. This competition is like that of the market-place, where what is involved is a struggle over cost-prices and sales-prices, and not between complex human beings." Mandel's history of the evolution of the crime story in Marxist terms is very different from that of such standard works as Howard Haycraft's Murder for Pleasure (1941) and Julian Symons' Bloody Murder (1972). Furthermore, Mandel's base is transnational. Whereas other historians of the detective story focus mainly on British and American fiction, with an occasional nod to French work, Mandel also considers German, Italian, and Dutch writers. His European, Marxist perspective supplements the views...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1080-658X
Print ISSN
0026-7724
Pages
pp. 364-369
Launched on MUSE
2009-01-01
Open Access
No
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