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11. The Pursuit of Crime: Characters in Crime Fiction

Carl Malmgren

Subject Literature

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405167659.2010.00012.x


Under the letter “G” in The Oxford Companion to Crime and Mystery Writing , one can find character-centered entries on “Gangsters,” “Gay Characters,” “Gentleman Sleuth,” “Girl Detective,” “Great Detective,” and “Gumshoe,” as well as entries for characters and authors whose names start with the letter “G.” The Oxford Companion demonstrates one way to organize the kinds of characters one encounters in crime fiction: to enumerate them according to types. This approach has the advantage of being both accessible and potentially exhaustive. The resultant encyclopedic text would list all possible character types. Another approach — let's call it the “functional” — would identify the sequence of events informing a particular narrative or genre and then analyze the function the character performs in that sequence. This approach, which we will use here, has the advantage of discriminating among the ways that different subgenres use their cast of characters. The basic narrative formula for murder or crime fiction is quite simple: someone is looking for someone or something. A crime story inevitably involves a pursuit or a quest. In most cases the pursuer, the searcher, is a policeman or a private detective or an amateur sleuth. The object of the search — the direct object of the basic narrative sentence — may vary at first (a private eye might be asked to find some missing diamonds, as ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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