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Crime fiction is the most popular fictional genre of the 21st century. In Crime and the Gothic Sian MacArthur explores the way in which writers of this genre take and adapt features of traditional Gothic fiction, incorporating them into their own crime fiction texts.
Kathy Reichs, Patricia Cornwell, Tess Gerritsen, Karin Slaughter, Dan Brown and Ian Rankin all regularly top best-seller lists around the world. Within an over-populated genre such as crime fiction it is only those writers who manage to bring a fresh idea to the table that will make it. Reichs offers an anthropological background, Cornwell a forensic one and Dan Brown has created a religious symbol and icon expert in the form of Professor Robert Langdon. Gerritsen’s investigations often begin in the ER room and Slaughter has reinvented the sidekick formula of the earliest detective fiction of Conan-Doyle and Poe in the combination of husband and wife team Sara Linton and Jeff Tolliver. Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy exposes corruption and exploitation through the misadventures of journalist Mikael Blomkvist and his peculiar acquaintance Lisbeth Salander.
In the quest for originality and a modern, fresh perspective, what is constant is the almost unwavering reliance upon traditional Gothic motifs that each of these writers demonstrate. Gerritsen’s tales of organ harvest can be seen as a modern re-working of Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818) and Dan Brown’s stories of mad and corrupt religious authorities can be read as a modern version of Lewis’ The Monk, written in 1796. Similarly, much criticism of Cornwell stems from her seeming inability to draw her characters and her plots away from melodramatic Gothic excess.
It is this use of Gothic convention – and the understanding of why such a dynamic modern genre should appear so reliant upon such a seemingly dated form – that Crime and the Gothic explores. Sian Macarthur uses detailed reference and analysis of some of the most successful modern crime fiction, to explore just how this debt to the Gothic manifests itself in crime writing in the 21stcentury.