- ‚Beinahekrimis‘ – Beinahe Krimis!? ed. by Sigrid Thielking, Jochen Vogt, Sarah Michaelis
Crime fiction holds a dominating position in the popular literary market, and the wealth of recent scholarship on the genre also testifies to its enduring allure in the academy. But, in contrast with the many studies of crime literature that begin by [End Page 642] rehearsing preemptive claims about why mysteries (among other so-called genre fictions or minor fictions) should matter to literary scholars despite the genre’s presumed lack of sophistication, Sigrid Thielking and Jochen Vogt’s volume approaches this ever-popular and remarkably adaptable genre from a perspective that highlights the intersections and cross-pollinations between crime and the classics. Thielking and Vogt present eleven diverse case studies of “Beinahekrimis” that do anything but reduce crime fiction to a list of conventions; rather, they explore canonical texts that engage the stock elements of crime writing and its readers’ expectations in inventive and deconstructive ways. Among the anthology’s strengths are its international and historical scope and its attention to the poetics of textuality in works belonging, if tentatively or questionably, to a genre that is all too often dismissed as schematic and unchallenging.
The interrogative title conveys both the anthology’s exploratory stance and its open-ended approach to delineating the Beinahekrimi as a category. While this may leave some readers desiring a more precise definition of the Beinahekrimi and its significance, it also allows for revealing investigations of heterogeneous literary forms and manifold hybrid genres. Two prefatory essays by Sigrid Thielking and Sarah Michaelis strategically identify the Beinahekrimi as a marginal and yet far-reaching phenomenon. Thielking thus clarifies at the outset that both the volume’s title and the category it names are “eher im Tastenden denn im Endgültigen anzusiedeln” (7). Using descriptors that stress play and innovation, Thielking goes on to define the titular genre as comprised of intentionally transgressive texts that recombine crime fiction’s structures and tropes with elements from other narrative traditions. Michaelis’s introduction similarly embraces the indeterminacy of the category and lack of uniformity among its specimens, even as she indicates that it might constitute a subgenre in its own right, concluding that “[d]er ‘Beinahekrimi’ fungiert als Projektionsfläche für Unbestimmtheitsstellen innerhalb der Krimiforschung” (32). Indeed, the eleven ensuing contributions investigate problems of classification alongside matters of historicity, hermeneutics, and reception.
The volume consists of two parts, with the first, “‘Avant la lettre’/(Post-)Avantgarde,” emphasizing cultural and historical questions of generic belonging, evolution, and diversification, and the second, “Hermeneutische Orientierung,” showcasing novel approaches to canonical texts through the interpretive lens of crime fiction. Commendable is the editors’ artful sequencing of the contributions so that the volume is bookended by studies of factual and narrativized crimes, and the positioning of an illuminating sixth chapter on interpretive strategies at the end of the first half that makes an apt transition to the second part. The opening chapter by Sandra Beck—the sole contribution on Krimis “Avant la lettre”—successfully complicates the commonly-held understanding of crime fiction as beginning with Poe by homing in on the French and German Pitaval traditions and the 1847 real-life crime story Der blinde Zeuge, which Beck identifies as marking “eine Umbruchstelle im Erzählen über Kriminalitaät” (49). Five ensuing studies then comprise the book’s “(Post-)Avantgarde” focus, including a reprinted essay by Jochen Vogt on Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s ambivalent positioning vis-à-vis the crime genre, and ending with Vera Nünning’s provocative interrogation of genre expectations in reading Ian McEwan’s Solar as both a crime novel and not one, a reading that ultimately highlights not only the [End Page 643] pivotal question of what constitutes a crime, but also the humanistic concerns of evaluating justice and morality.
The book’s second half meets the challenge that Nünning poses when she encourages “die Lektüre von Non-Krimis als Krimis” (122) and celebrates the insights this task holds for literary study. Here, where the contributions analyze works as...