Unwilling Executioner: Crime Fiction and the State

ISBN : 9780198831129

Andrew Pepper
288 Pages
153 x 234 mm
Pub date
Sep 2018
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What gives crime fiction its distinctive shape and form? What makes it such a compelling vehicle of social and political critique? Unwilling Executioner argues that the answer lies in the emerging genre's complex and intimate relationship with the bureaucratic state and modern capitalism, and the contradictions that ensue once the state assumes control of the criminal justice system. This study offers a dramatic new interpretation of the genre's emergence and evolution over a three hundred year period and as a genuinely transnational phenomenon. From its roots in the tales of criminality circulated widely in Paris and London in the early eighteenth century, this book examines the extraordinary richness, diversity, and complexity of the genre's subsequent thematizations of crime and policing—moving from France and Britain and from continental Europe and the United States to other parts of the globe. In doing so it offers new ways of reading established crime novelists like Gaboriau, Doyle, Hammett, and Simenon, beyond their national contexts and an impulse to characterize their work as either straightforwardly 'radical' or 'conservative'. It also argues for the centrality of writers like Defoe, Gay, Godwin, Vidocq, Morrison, and more recently Manchette, Himes, and Sjöwall and Wahlöö to a project where crime and policing are rooted, and shown to be rooted, in the social and economic conditions of their time. These are all deeply political writers even if their novels exhibit no interest in directly promoting political causes or parties. The result is an agile, layered, and far-reaching account of the crime story's ambivalent relationship to the justice system and its move to complicate our understanding of what crime is and how society is policed and for whose benefit.


Introduction: Crime Fiction as Unwilling Executioner
1 'A Life of Horrid and Inimitable Wickedness': Crime, Law, and Punishment in Early Eighteenth-century London and Paris
2 'Let Us Attack Injustice at Its Source': Crime Literature in an Era of Revolution and Reform
3 'A Mysterious Power Whose Hand is Everywhere': Imagining the State and Codifying the Law in the Mid-nineteenth Century
4 Crime, Business, and Liberty at the Turn of the Century: The Individual, the State, and the Emergence of Modern Capitalism
5 'No Good for Business': States of Crime in the 1920s and 1930s
6 'On the Barricades': Crime Fiction and Commitment in an Era of Radical Politics
7 From Sovereignty to Neoliberalism: Crime Fiction in the Contemporary World
Select Bibliography

About the author: 

Andrew Pepper is Senior Lecturer in English and American literature at Queen's University Belfast. He has written extensively about crime fiction over a twenty year period and is the author of The Contemporary American Crime Novel: Race, Ethnicity, Gender, Class (Edinburgh University Press, 2000) and co-editor, with David Schmid, of Globalization and the State in Contemporary Crime Fiction (Palgrave, 2016). He is also the author of five detective novels set in nineteenth-century Britain and Ireland, all published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson, including The Last Days of Newgate (2006), The Detective Branch (2010) and Bloody Winter (2011).

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