- Einführung in den Kriminalroman by Thomas Kniesche
The ever-increasing abundance of primary and secondary literature on Kriminalromane more than justifies a fresh approach to the subject matter and an updated overview. Similar to Peter Nusser’s introduction to crime and detective novels for [End Page 640] university-level literature students (Der Kriminalroman, 4th ed. Stuttgart 2009), Thomas Kniesche’s Einführung in den Kriminalroman, a volume in the “Einführung Germanistik” series, offers such an approach and overview. Here, Kniesche lays out the terrain in five sections, beginning with the challenges of defining the detective novel and thriller (he refers to them collectively as the Kriminalroman), then embarking on an excursion through a history of scholarship on the genre, relevant theoretical approaches, a history of the genre itself, and analyses of representative works.
From an assemblage of descriptions of and attitudes toward the genre, Kniesche produces a synthetic definition that reflects his approach to the Kriminalroman in general. Rather than working in absolutes, this volume identifies typical structures and devices, then points to how they are optimized by authors explicitly writing Kriminalromane and those playing with or challenging aspects of the genre.
In the section devoted to the history of research on Kriminalliteratur, Kniesche summarizes the dominant themes of one hundred years of literary essays and scholarly analyses. Here he ably captures the prevailing focal points of research since the 1960s, but the author’s synthesis of the scholarly and popular debates before 1945 is less developed. Kniesche characterizes the period between 1900 and 1920 as dominated by apologist essays on the genre, supplemented in the 1920s by writings from crimefiction authors themselves (21). While the defensive tone of early essays cannot be denied, such a characterization downplays the concomitant effort of these early writers to describe—and analyze—a nascent genre. Consideration of Henry Douglas Thomson’s Masters of Mystery (1931) and significant German-language contributions such as Alfred Lichtenstein’s Der Kriminalroman (1908), Friedrich Depken’s Sherlock Holmes, Raffles und ihre Vorbilder (1914), and Albert Ludwig’s articles would have complemented Kniesche’s treatment of Brecht’s and Kracauer’s theoretical essays from the 1920s, and painted a more complete picture of early engagement with the history and content of Kriminalromane. This issue notwithstanding, Kniesche finishes the section strongly, devoting several pages to research in Germany, and providing resources for further study (23–6).
In the succeeding chapter, Kniesche treats various theoretical schools and how representatives of these approaches interpret the genre (27–50). This section is rendered particularly accessible through the inclusion of key research questions associated with, for instance, post-colonial or gender-studies readings, and serves well to locate the Kriminalroman within larger trends in literary studies.
The fourth chapter of Einführung in den Kriminalroman turns to the history of the genre itself. Here Kniesche is attuned to the recent discussions that are still reworking and refining our understanding of the genre. These include the 2011 discovery of the true authorship of the first detective novel, The Notting Hill Mystery (1865) and a more dynamic reconstruction of the Kriminalroman as it emerged in the 19th century from a confluence of circumstances and genres. In a similar vein, Kniesche points to a growing consensus that the Golden Age of detective novels was more diverse than previously considered. The author does not simply pass over the longstanding scholarly neglect of the German Kriminalroman as many have, but rather hypothesizes as to its cause. As he traces developments to the modern age, Kniesche is notably more inclusive of thematic subgenres such as minority and feminist detective novels than previous scholars. As in previous chapters, he concludes with a focus on the development of the Kriminalroman in the German-speaking world (99–105). [End Page 641] The content of this section—and, indeed, the entire book—is meticulously researched. With respect to organization, readers may find it awkward at times to read sections on existing scholarship and theoretical approaches before they learn how the author would have them understand the evolution of the...