Crime: All the Time or Some of the Time

The ever-popular category of crime fiction — which can include detective novels, mysteries, thrillers, etc. — has different categories of authors.

There are those writers — such as Raymond Chandler, Lee Child, Agatha Christie, Michael Connelly, Arthur Conan Doyle, Janet Evanovich, Sue Grafton, Dashiell Hammett, Patricia Highsmith, P.D. James, Walter Mosley, Louise Penny, Dorothy L. Sayers, and Lisa Scottoline — known mostly for their crime fiction, even as they occasionally roam/roamed outside that genre. Then there are authors known more for their non-crime-fiction work, even as they produce/produced some strong offerings in the detective/mystery/thriller realm. This blog post will be about the latter group — which includes people like Wilkie Collins, Charles Dickens, Edgar Allan Poe, J.K. Rowling, and Mark Twain.

I’ll first discuss Rowling, who, as “Robert Galbraith,” writes the series starring fascinating private investigator Cormoran Strike. I read the debut installment, The Cuckoo’s Calling, this week — and was bowled over by how smoothly Rowling moved into crime fiction after conquering the young-adult/magical-fiction world with her iconic Harry Potter series and then writing the compelling general-adult-fiction book The Casual Vacancy. Rowling will always be associated more with Harry Potter than anything else, but her versatility is off-the-charts.

Collins is best known for The Woman in White, an ultra-suspenseful mystery; and The Moonstone, an early example of detective fiction. But most of his novels were in the realm of general fiction.

Poe is of course almost synonymous with horror fiction, but he wrote several earlier-than-The Moonstone detective stories starring C. Auguste Dupin — the most famous of which were “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” and “The Purloined Letter.”

Twain’s late-career novel Pudd’nhead Wilson, with its important plot-solving element of fingerprint analysis, placed that author somewhat in the crime-solving genre. Two years later, Twain came out with Tom Sawyer, Detective — one of his lesser novels.

Dickens turned to the mystery genre with his last, unfinished book — The Mystery of Edwin Drood — after more than 30 years of penning more general literary works.

Obviously, authors who write crime fiction most of the time can really master that genre, but the potential drawback can be a certain sameness in some of their work. Those pros and cons can of course flip for writers who turn to crime fiction only occasionally.

Any thoughts on the two categories of crime-fiction authors discussed in this blog post? Your favorite works in each category?

(BTW, one reason Jim Grant took the name Lee Child was because that alias alphabetically placed his Jack Reacher novels in libraries and bookstores between the works of crime-fiction greats Raymond Chandler and Agatha Christie — just like Child ended up between Chandler and Christie in this blog post’s second paragraph.)

My 2017 literary-trivia book is described and can be purchased here: Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time.

In addition to this weekly blog, I write the award-winning “Montclairvoyant” topical-humor column for The latest weekly piece — about overdevelopment run amok in my town — is here.

Our Favorite Friendships in Fiction

Perhaps we remember the great romances more, but literature’s great friendships also provide us with many pleasurable reading experiences.

Fictional friendships — which are often more enduring than romances — can teach us, touch us, blunt our cynicism, and remind us of our own longtime pals. And if some of literature’s buddies have a falling out, the silver lining for readers is plenty of dramatic tension.

I love friendships of all types in literature, but my favorites are the ones that cross the lines of race, ethnicity, gender, and class. Those different-background relationships can be tricky in real life, so it’s especially nice to see them succeed in fiction.

One obvious multicultural pairing is Mark Twain’s Huck and Jim — a white boy and a slavery-escaping black man who gradually become close. Heck, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn could have been called The Friendship of Huckleberry Finn — and we’re not talking about Huck’s interactions with the annoying Tom Sawyer!

There are also the unshakable comrades Chingachgook and Natty Bumppo in James Fenimore Cooper’s five absorbing “Leatherstocking” novels. The final The Last of the Mohicans scene between the Native-American chief and the white hunter (aka Hawkeye, Deerslayer, Pathfinder, etc.) is one of the most touching depictions of friendship in literature.

Or how about Uncle Tom and young Eva in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin? Two admirable people who become interracial and intergenerational friends before circumstances turn tragic for each.

Another great example of friendship across age and class lines — this time with both characters white — is that of the working-class Mary and the older, more-moneyed Elizabeth in Tracy Chevalier’s historical novel Remarkable Creatures. Fossil hunting brings them together.

Mixed-gender friends? They include Jim and Antonia in Willa Cather’s excellent My Antonia, and none other than Harry Potter and Hermione Granger in J.K. Rowling’s mega-popular series.

Of course, many pals are the same gender and socioeconomically similar. One of the most memorable friendships in literature is between Jane Eyre and the sickly, religious, warmhearted Helen Burns (when both are kids) in Charlotte Bronte’s classic novel.

There’s also the prison friendship of Edmond Dantes and Abbe Farina in Alexandre Dumas’ rousing The Count of Monte Cristo, with the latter character doubling as a mentor; and the relationship between Dmitri and destined-for-prison Raskolnikov in Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s masterpiece Crime and Punishment — though Dmitri does most of the heavy lifting after the initial stages of that friendship.

Or how about “kindred spirits” Anne and Diana in L.M. Montgomery’s marvelous Anne of Green Gables?

In novels of more recent vintage, Terry McMillan’s appealing Waiting to Exhale features four friends (Savannah, Bernadine, Robin, and Gloria); John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany depicts a fascinating friendship between John and the very original Owen; Margaret Atwood’s terrific The Robber Bride chronicles the many-year relationship between Roz, Charis, and Tony, all three of whom share an enemy; and Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behavior includes the fun, satisfying friendship between Dellarobia and Dovey.

I haven’t even gotten into friendships between humans and animals in novels such as Jack London’s riveting The Call of the Wild and White Fang, Albert Payson Terhune’s poignant His Dog, and William H. Armstrong’s also-poignant Sounder.

Who are your favorite friends in literature?

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