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  • Handbuch Kriminalliteratur. Theorien – Geschichte – Medien ed. by Susanne Düwell et al
  • Julia Karolle-Berg
Handbuch Kriminalliteratur. Theorien – Geschichte – Medien.
Herausgegeben von Susanne Düwell, Andrea Bartl, Christof Hamann und Oliver Ruf. Stuttgart: Metzler, 2018. vii + 422 Seiten. €89,95 gebunden, €69,99 eBook.

Over the last decade, several volumes in German Studies have undertaken comprehensive analyses of Kriminalliteratur. Peter Nusser’s benchmark Der Kriminalroman (4th ed. Stuttgart 2009) has since been joined by Thomas Kniesche’s Einführung in den Kriminalroman (Darmstadt 2015) [ed. note: see review in Monatshefte 108.4, Winter 2016, 640–42]. Looking to introduce a broader readership to primary sources, Katharina Hall’s edited volume Crime Fiction in German: Der Krimi (Cardiff 2016) [ed. note: see review in Monatshefte 109.4, Winter 2017, 695–97] offered the first English-language literary history of the German-language Kriminalroman from the nineteenth century to today. Kniesche has been quick to pick up the thread anew with his recently released edited volume Contemporary German Crime Fiction (Berlin 2019).

By very virtue of its designation as a “handbook,” Düwell et al.’s recent addition to Metzler’s series similarly excites expectations of comprehensiveness. Like other Handbücher, the Handbuch Kriminalliteratur presents the current state of research on its subject. Here, the editors further subdivide the three areas of theory, history, and media into seven sections and ultimately fifty-three short essays. Over forty scholars, most of them affiliated with academic or literary institutions in Germany, Austria, or Switzerland, contributed to the work. Rounding out the volume is an overview of crime-novel awards and institutions and an index of authors and works.

The volume’s themes and layout notwithstanding, the “systematic” organization (vii) noted in its strikingly brief introduction betokens the editors’ intention to complement existing research on—rather than offer an overview of—Kriminalliteratur. [End Page 730] The desire to bring a broad range of perspectives to the topic is most telling in the enlisting of scholars with established publishing records mainly in areas outside Kriminalliteratur—such as in gender studies, medicine, and media studies. Only a minority of the contributors (Düwell, Jill Bühler, and Clemens Peck among them), appear to have previously published on themes related to Kriminalliteratur.

The treatment of theoretical approaches accounts for nearly two-thirds of the text. Many of the forty essays in this section favor German-language primary sources; in the case of secondary sources, the focus expands to capture trends in recent international scholarship. After a section on literary concepts that features essays on topics ranging from narratology to constructions of space, attention shifts to interdisciplinary approaches such as semiotics and criminology. These essays capture how scholars in various disciplines have read Kriminalliteratur, and how they have interpreted it as an expression of larger social phenomena. Florian Lehmann’s essay on philosophy offers an example of the latter. Here, Lehmann provides a cogent reading of Siegfried Kracauer’s formidable treatise on the Detektiv-Roman by situating this essay with respect to Kracauer’s larger critique of modernity, and thus the detective novel as an object of demonstration for his theory of spheres (69).

In the section titled “Poetologische Reflexionen,” essays explore various authors’ aesthetic self-understanding. It predictably features treatments of Edgar Allan Poe and Arthur Conan Doyle, but it also includes four German-language authors: Bertolt Brecht, Friedrich Dürrenmatt, and the contemporary writers Dieter Wellershoff and Bernhard Jaumann. The analysis of more recent German-language authors is laudable, yet the overall selection and organization of the section is puzzling. Defying both chronological and alphabetical order, an essay on Brecht appears after Poe and before ones on Arthur Conan Doyle, Raymond Chandler, and Dorothy Sayers. Moreover, the treatment of Brecht’s theory of crime and detective fiction in a section that otherwise focuses on the writings of practitioners of the genre is itself somewhat out of place. As such, this section exposes a potential downside of highlighting areas that merit new research without presenting them in a larger literary history. To offer one example: an analysis of Chandler’s 1940s essays on the hardboiled school of thought is included, but there is no essay...


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