- Policing Gender and Alicia Giménez Bartlett’s Crime Fiction by Nina L. Molinaro
Nina L. Molinaro’s Policing Gender and Alicia Giménez Bartlett’s Crime Fiction is a compelling analysis of gender dynamics in the Petra Delicado [End Page 544] series by Alicia Giménez Bartlett. Molinaro’s thoroughly researched study is an important contribution to the field, providing the first book-length study of the most successful collection of detective novels ever published in Spain. Molinaro’s book affords a comprehensive overview, including a detailed introductory chapter that summarizes the history of crime fiction both in general and more specifically in Spain, as well as chapters dedicated to each of the first nine novels in Giménez Bartlett’s series (1996–2013). The tenth book in the ongoing series was released in 2015, after Molinaro’s monograph.
The protagonist of Giménez Bartlett’s crime fiction series is Petra Delicado, a twice-divorced, sexually adventurous, hard-drinking female detective in the male-dominated Barcelona police department. Delicado supervises Fermín Garzón, a much older male detective, and while she initially struggles with self-doubt as well as institutionalized sexism stemming from Garzón, her colleagues, and superior officers in the police department, Delicado’s early success in solving difficult cases ends up boosting her confidence and garnering her the respect of her male coworkers and supervisors alike.
In contrast with many of the articles that have been written about the Delicado series, Molinaro does not view the series and its emphasis on the female detective’s triumphs in a traditionally male-gendered field as feminist or postfeminist or ambiguously feminist but as fully antifeminist. Molinaro explains that the very nature of police procedurals is conservative and prescriptive and that, in addition to attempting to control and correct societal corruption, the police procedural in general and the Delicado series in particular “explicitly enforces hierarchical gender roles” (p. 22).
Molinaro’s arguments are supported by a variety of theoretical frameworks ranging from Freudianism to animal studies and image theory, but it would be useful to have further elucidation of the way she defines certain fundamental concepts such as “masculinity” and “femininity.” For example, Molinaro claims that the importance of Delicado’s role as a successful female cop is mitigated by her “superficial womanhood” that “conceals her inherent quest for masculinity,” but Molinaro does not specify the ways in which Delicado expresses or fails to express womanhood or masculinity (p. 78). In addition to frequent mentions of Delicado’s masculinization, Molinaro also refers to “feminized men” but does not clarify the meaning of these terms (p. 21).
While Molinaro’s well-written analysis covers a wide range of material, there is some tendency toward generalization, particularly on issues relating to gender. For example, when the criminal in one of the novels turns out to be a mother, Molinaro concludes that “the author proposes yet another cautionary tale about women by transforming maternity into a [End Page 545] felony and mothers into criminals who require specialized correction at the hands of other women”; she does not make a similar generalization when the criminal in another novel is a father (p. 107). Similarly, Molinaro criticizes the third novel in the series, in which the central crime involves amputated penises because the focus on male genital mutilation is “yet one more way in which women are effectively elided or ‘universalized’ throughout the series” (p. 68).
In the end, Molinaro’s engaging study of gender dynamics in Giménez Bartlett’s crime fiction fills an important gap in the study of post-Franco Spanish literature. Her thorough and wide-ranging analysis of the first nine novels in the Delicado series provides much material to consider and is sure to encourage additional inquiry and healthy debate.