At the end of “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” Edgar Allan Poe’s detective Auguste Dupin, the prototype of the analytical detective, offers a disparaging verdict on the Parisian Prefect of Police. The Prefect has “impaired his vision by holding the object too close. He might see, perhaps, one or two points with unusual clearness, but in doing so he, necessarily, lost sight of the matter as a whole.”
Dupin’s comment on the Prefect’s myopia is part of a characteristic nineteenth-century debate on the epistemology of detection, yet it also an apt metaphor for a certain myopia that afflicts traditional crime fiction scholarship. The Dupin stories themselves, for example, are often seen as foundational works of crime fiction in English, yet are set in France with a French detective and clearly position Paris as the hub of a global network of trade and exchange. More generally, crime fiction scholars have failed to see the global forest for the English trees. World crime fiction was limited to a select few, including Franco-Belgian Georges Simenon and Swedish partners in crime Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö. Yet, until recently, there has been no general recognition that crime fiction is, in fact, a global genre, written and read across the world and shaped in fundamental ways by the appropriation of tropes and devices across borders.
The Cambridge Companion to World Crime Fiction attempts to address this by establishing an inclusive, de-centred account of crime fiction as a uniquely global genre. Across its 14 essays, this volume lays out the theoretical framework of crime fiction as a worldwide phenomenon, defining a set of analytical categories – circulation, translation, hybridisation, adaptation, localisation – capable of accounting for the global exchange that defines crime fiction. British-American crime fiction is clearly an important tradition, but it is not the only one, and the collection thus offers an overview of world crime fiction, covering all continents and including regions that have rarely been considered by crime fiction scholars: East Asia, Africa, the Arab World and Latin America as well as the more familiar European crime fiction traditions, including Scandinavia.
If crime fiction studies has often highlighted the conformism and rule-bound nature of the genre, the contributors to this volume highlight instead the infinitely variable and rule-bending practices of global crime authors. Whether it’s feminist crime fiction in 1940s India, socially engaged crime fiction in 1950s Japan, photographic crime novels in 1970s Lebanon, or the Scandinavian boom of the 2000s, the essays demonstrate just how malleable the crime genre is – how capable of using international forms to address the political and cultural concerns of its local setting. Indeed, it can no longer simply be assumed that Britain and America produce the most innovative crime writing. As the wave of Scandinavian noir has shown, non-English crime literatures are increasingly shaping the genre’s development.
Reading crime fiction from around the world does not just change the way we read crime fiction; it reminds us that crime fiction has always had change, evolution and translation at its heart.