04/11/2012

Deadlier Than The Male

CADS 64 is out and it's all great stuff as usual. Of particular interest to this blogger is Josef Hoffman's in-depth article about post-WW2 women suspense writers. The current academic, critical and popular lack of interest for the likes of Charlotte Armstrong, Margaret Millar, Ursula Curtiss and others has long been an object of dismay, puzzlement and frustration to me. At a time when critics rave about books that "transcend the genre" you might think there would be some recognition for authors who paved the way, sometimes in much more radical a fashion than anything written today. Also, feminists should celebrate a period when women writers were arguably edgier (and, in some cases, more successful) than their male colleagues. And yet the "Queens of Suspense" barely get a mention in studies of the genre, except for the very atypical Patricia Highsmith. 

It may have to do with the nebulousness of "Suspense" as a concept. Of all mystery subgenres it is certainly the hardest one to define, in part because it encompasses a wide variety of approaches. There may be obvious differences between The Nine Tailors and The Judas Window but there's no denying both are whodunits, following each in its own fashion the basic structure and rules of the whodunit genre. You'd be hard-pressed on the other hand to find such common ground between, say, Armstrong's A Dram of Poison and Millar's A Stranger in my Grave. Suspense fiction may derive from the traditional mystery or HIBK or the psychological crime novel; it may even incorporate some hardboiled elements. Its identity doesn't lie in what it is but what it does - you just don't read a novel by Mary Higgins Clark the same way that you read one by P.D. James and the experience is markedly different - and it's a major problem in a time like ours when books are supposed to fit in well-delineated categories. 

Further reading

"Atomic Renaissance" by Jeffrey Marks

CADS 64 (and its predecessors) can be ordered via Geoff Bradley, 9 Vicarage Hill, South Benfleet, Essex, SS7 1PA.