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33 2. Female Crime Fiction: The Space of Transgression In the wake of Janice Galloway’s or A. L. Kennedy’s success came, alongside the mapping of a space of fiction by female writers such as Anne Donovan, Laura Hird, Alison Miller or, even more recently Jenni Fagan, another somewhat contiguous space which adds to the equation a generic dimension, as well as openly reflecting on the issue of gender – crime. Denise Mina and Louise Welsh in Glasgow, but also Scottish writer Val McDermid who lives and works in Manchester, carved out a space for themselves in a genre dominated in Scotland by the totemic figure of Ian Rankin, a space situated at the crossroads of gender and genre, in order for them to go beyond both gender and generic stereotype. This space is not a negative space in the sense of the kind of fictional territory delineated in Strachan’s novels,1 but rather a transitional space, conceived as a locus of revelation and of questioning of the assumptions made by readers of the genre. This chapter, therefore, focuses on crime novels written by women – leaving aside their many male counterparts, not only Ian Rankin or Alexander McCall Smith, but also, for example, Stuart McBride, Christopher Brookmyre or Paul Johnston – in order to comment on the doubly marginal space from which they hail. To start with the question of generic and historical constraints, crime fiction is a tradition in British literature that can be said to have Scottish roots, as it dates back to Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous short stories, which themselves have been said to have been inspired by Edgar Allan Poe’s Auguste Dupin and Emile Gaboriau’s Inspector Lecoq. Ian Campbell notes that Conan Doyle was also possibly influenced by popular nineteenth century Edinburgh crime writers James McLevy and James McGovan.2 In the twentieth century, the genre earned its credentials with the American hardboiled crime novels of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, while in Britain crime fiction refers us back to the golden age of Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers. Over the years, it has segued into a variety of subgenres such as the thriller, psychological thriller, police procedural, PI or hardboiled detective novel to name but the best known, while critics have devised new labels to account for subgenres which cater for very specific markets, 34 the space of fiction for example the fairly recent ‘Chick Dick’ novel which is a mixture of crime novel and lesbian novel, a cross-generic genre in itself, written, for instance, by Sarah Paretski, an author cited by Val McDermid as one of her inspirations. In Scotland, ever since James Ellroy coined the term ‘Tartan Noir’ to refer to Ian Rankin’s work, the genre has steadily developed, to the extent that Edmund O’Connor judges it the most noticeable publishing trend in the last fifteen years. This fact makes the critic wonder if the phenomenon is just a marketing success (the happy result of ‘publishers’ spin machine’) or if there is ‘something genuinely dark and disturbing scuttling the streets [of Scotland’s cities]’.3 One of the elements that can point to the suitability of crime fiction as a genre in a Scottish literary context is that it accommodates two of its fundamental tenets. The first of those is the topos of the divided self, the study of duplicity, of the monstrous hiding behind the mundane, a theme in Scottish fiction since the seventeenth century, on to James Hogg and later Robert Louis Stevenson.4 The second is the influence of the monstrous and the gothic, with Scottish gothic detective writing a tradition well established from the mid-nineteenth century. Those two aspects provide some backup to Gill Plain’s definition of crime fiction as being ‘about confronting and taming the monstrous’,5 an endeavour both endorsed and challenged by Mina, Welsh and McDermid in their fiction. For McDermid, this dual influence has to do with the particular historical context that weighs upon Scottish fiction: We didn’t find ourselves in the tradition of Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers, nor in the American one of Chandler and Hammett. Our tradition is much darker, with psychological mainsprings and black humour – it comes from writers like James Hogg and R. L. Stevenson, and what Hugh MacDiarmid called the Caledonian antisyzygy.6 Louise Welsh in particular shows an unflinching interest in gothic fiction which she intertextually integrates into many of her novels, particularly The Cutting Room (2002) but...


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