View Full Version : The genre that just won't die

08-22-2007, 08:26 PM
Comics are to be Hercule Poirot's latest incarnation. It's the latest twist to crime fiction, a genre constantly reinvented in its 170-year history. When a story has been told and retold many times, it can wear a little threadbare. So it is with the murder mysteries penned by the original queen of crime, Agatha Christie, now associated with the genteel, sepia-tinged glow of a cosy Sunday in front of the telly.


15 Sept 1890 - 12 Jan 1976
First novel - featuring Poirot - published in 1920
66 novels, 154 short stories and 20 plays in 50-year career
Outsold only by the Bible and Shakespeare
Translated into 70+ languages

Cosies - that is what such tales are known as in the crime-writing trade. But to her fans, Christie wrote about far more than murder most horrid in the drawing room. Hers are timeless stories filled with tension and deceit, not to mention richly-detailed portraits of a bygone age.

And these make her tales perfect comic book fodder, which is why her publishers of 70 years, HarperCollins, hope that Hercule Poirot et al will appeal to the same young readers who for generations have lapped up the exploits of TinTin, Asterix and more recent heroes of graphic novels - readers who might otherwise be put off the Christie cannon by dated TV repeats.

For those who prefer to use their imagination, 12 Christie novels are being given a facelift with new jackets, just six years after the last revamp. For unlike many of her contemporaries, Christie has never been out of print.

"She's an incredibly important author for us," says Julia Wisdom, HarperFiction's publishing director in charge of crime titles. "They are still very good stories and very clever. And she translates beautifully into any language - the stories are just there, they are not difficult to put across."

* indicates crime title
*1. The Savage Garden, Mark Mills
*2. Next, Michael Crichton
3. The House at Riverton, Kate Morton
4. The Memory Keeper's Daughter, Kim Edwards
*5. The Naming of the Dead, Ian Rankin
6. Getting Rid of Matthew, Jane Fallon
*7. Relentless, Simon Kernick
*8. The Last Testament, Sam Bourne
9. A Spot of Bother, Mark Haddon
10. Whitethorn Woods, Maeve Binchy

Crime fiction in general is a strong source of sales - five of the top 10 selling paperbacks are thriller titles; two are literary chillers on the Richard and Judy reading list, two are by perennial best-selling authors (Michael Crichton and Ian Rankin) and The Last Testament is a chase mystery, a genre made popular again by The da Vinci Code.

"We've also got Val McDermid in the hardback chart with a psychological thriller - quite violent, a lot of forensic detail and she's been televised with Wire in the Blood, which always lifts sales," says Ms Wisdom. McDermid's latest, Beneath the Bleeding, is one of six thrillers in the hardback top 10.

"These are very different books, and that's the key to why crime has endured - it's so adaptable, it will never go stale."

Locked room

While Sherlock Holmes remains one of the world's most famous fictional detectives 120 years after his first appearance, he was by no means the first. In 1841, Edgar Allen Poe wrote a short story titled The Murders in the Rue Morgue.

Mystery and suspense had been a staple of fiction long before this - Lynda "Prime Suspect" LaPlante is among those to credit novelists such as the Brontes and Jane Austen as skilled thriller writers - but this was the first "tale of rationation", as Poe described it, in which a fictional detective solved a crime.

What Arthur Conan Doyle did some 45 years later was to capture the public's imagination with a flawed central character using the latest techniques to puzzle out a mystery. It is a template that remains popular today, with Holmes's "deductive reasoning" replaced by psychological profiling and forensic technology.

And like Holmes, Poirot, Miss Marple and Poe's detective, C Auguste Dupin, reappeared in story after a story. "Best-sellers are always those in a series," says Ms Wisdom. "It's perfect reading for a lot of people - they just love to see a familiar character develop a personal life, happy or unhappy."

In the 1980s crime writing began to splinter in all directions. Umberto Eco produced In the Name of the Rose, single-handedly creating a whole new genre of literary historical thriller - and crime writing in translation - and Ruth Rendell, writing as Barbara Vine, invented the one-off psychological thriller with A Dark-Adapted Eye in 1986.

Then came books which shifted the action to the forensics lab, largely due to Patricia Cornwall, whose insider knowledge of forensic science provides the visceral veracity popular with crime readers.

Gone are the days when women provided virtually gore-free chillers, while men penned the darker stuff. Today women write more than half of all crime novels, a genre read by a predominantly female audience.



04-17-2016, 05:53 PM
Clever re-packaging might be the thing to introduce Agatha Christie to a new readership. I recently bought three Hard Case Crime books, mainly because I liked the lurid covers. I am not sure about Agatha Christie though. Her stories always seemed as far away from real crime as it is possible to get. I was always rather sorry for the culprits. The victim was usually a complete rotter, and now thanks to Poirot or Marple sticking their nose in, the perpetrators are going to be hanged. They never show that bit.