“While the genre of crime writing covers a wide diversity of texts, these texts all engage with investigating a crime and associated social and moral issues” Conventions shape a text and are adopted to suit a specific audience or contextual purpose. The genre of crime writing covers a wide diversity of texts that through the composer’s contextual influences and intentions conform to or subvert the archetypal crime writing conventions and themes such as the investigation of a crime and the associated social and moral issues involved. Rear Window’ a highly cinematically geared 1954 film by Alfred Hitchcock, ‘Anil’s Ghost’ a prose fiction by Michael Ondaatje, ‘The Big Sleep’ a 1946 film by Howard Hawkes based on the novel by Raymond chandler and ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in The Night-time’ a 2003 novel by Mark Haddon exemplify the enduring nature of crime fiction as it is adapted through various social and historical contexts to resonate important ideas to their respective audiences.
The classification of ‘Rear Window’ by Alfred Hitchcock as a classic piece of crime writing is due to its exploration of the conventional nature of the crime, setting, a sense of mystery and tension that is embodied throughout the text and the intellect of a detective figure necessary to attain a denouement. Renowned as ‘the master of suspense’ Hitchcock achieves tension and suspense by taking innocent, ordinary characters and placing them in a situation beyond their control where a vulnerable victim is murdered.
The combination of thriller with crime is illustrated through the use of several cinematic devices such as sound and lighting. Throughout the final scenes where Jefferies is confronted by Thorwald, the re-curing flash of the camera light bulb which dissolves into complete darkness heightens suspense and the anticipated thrill within Hitchcock’s respective audience, reflecting his subtle subversion of the genre to suit his purpose. The juxtaposition of silence and urgent whispering with the digetic booming sounds of Thorwald’s enacing footsteps forebodes the characterisation employed by Hitchcock to enable the establishment of a villain detective reflecting how the text engages with crime and its associated social and moral issues. The engagement of crime investigation to solve social and moral issues is captured through a voyeuristic exploration of society. The mise-en-scene throughout the film conveys the enclosed, typical hard boiled crime fiction urban setting where the crime occurs within a fragmented part of society, denoting the thematic concern of human nature.
Hitchcock’s characterisation of Jeffery’s as an invalid subverts the traditional role of the detective yet through the use of point of view shots he acts as a surrogate for our knowledge, portraying the voyeuristic nature of society “we grown to be a race of peeping toms” (stellar) whilst conforming to the notion of the detective’s moralistic stance on justice and the quest to restore order.
Similarly, characterisation of Lisa and Stellar as the dominant figures over Jefferies portrays the emerging social role of women as liberated and independent in Hitchcock’s prevailing social context. Lisa’s influence and female intuition “A woman never goes anywhere but the hospital without packing makeup, clothes, and jewellery” sees the subversion of the typical singular police/detective role as she alongside Jefferies, Stellar and Doyle is an integral part in the crime’s denouement.
Hitchcock adheres to the conventions of crime writing through the use of red herrings being the inclusion of romance and sub-plots such as Miss lonely hearts, distracting the audience from the essential nature of the crime whilst reflecting his entertainment purpose by addressing the social and moral issues of the context, reflecting the diverse nature of crime fiction.
Correspondingly, ‘Anil’s Ghost’ by Michael Ondaatje lends itself as a diverse postmodern crime writing text as the composer’s purpose is to inform and educate the audience of the social and political turmoil occurring within Sri-Lanka at the set time. The nature of the crime as one against a culture subverts the stereotypical victim versus perpetrator convention “we need to discover we are talking about a murder committed by the Government” yet the social and moral issues of restoration of order, justice, truth, teamwork nd communal understanding are still prevalent. “Her journey was getting to the truth, it was a flame against a sleeping lake of petrol. ” Ondaatje’s use of emotive language and hostile cultural imagery explores the setting “around him were more than 100. Dead” as well as the style of the crime as subverting the conventions as the quest is not to uncover the murderer, instead, the identity of the victim.
The characterisation of Anil as a female detective who embodies a high intellect, modern methodologies and forensic knowledge contrasts to the archetype detective established pre- Golden age crime writing in the 1920’s. Ondaatje’s representation of women’s power and the juxtaposition of methods of investigation to the historical styles used within Sri-Lanka sees the diversification of crime’s invitation and the social issues of trust and team work that aim to achieve the ultimatum of crime writing fiction; restoration of order, a strongly coherent values within all crime writing genres. The Big Sleep’, directed by Howard Hawkes conveys a highly conventional hardboiled crime writing text shot in the cinematic style of film noir to emphasise the themes of anxiety, danger and suspicion that pervade the sub-genre. The use of the seedy backdrop city of L. A setting, combined with the detective Marlowe’s quintessential characterisation as the masculine, cynical, tough, sexually confident all knowing figure that is depicted through his pessimistic first person narration “I collect blondes and bottles…
I don’t mind your ritzing me drinking but don’t waste your time trying to cross-examine me” allows for further insight into humanity’s corruption post ww11. The emerging movement of film noire in the 40’s sees the employment black and white tones to depict the ambiguity of society with emphasis placed on Marlow through spotlights, symbolising his isolation and externalization for the corruption of American society.
The succeeding role of female’s sexuality is also facilitated through the accumulative characterisation of Vivian, who equals Marlowe in wit and intelligence, conforming to the gender stereotypes that were present. Her veracious sexual appetite hinders his investigation in an attempt to divert him from the truth however Marlowe’s strong sense of justice and moral integrity sees him reject her alluring advances until the crime is solved, reflecting how the film adapts to the growing empowerment of women of the late 40’s. The Big Sleep’ engages with investigating a crime as the moralistic and social issues that are subservient to it. Mark Haddon’s ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in The Night-time’ is largely subversive of the crime writing genre as Haddon’s purpose sees the novel as a form of entertainment for a younger audience rather than a more typical adult responder.
Constructed as a secondary nature piece of crime writing, the novel’s structure as a dualistic setting and highly chronologically structured plot is illustrated through the visual incorporation of maps and diagrams and simplistic language to inform the readers of Christopher’s process of logical deduction, disorienting and reorienting the reader to deduct the crime “lots of things are mysteries… being clever is when you look at how things work and use the evidence to work out something new. Adhering to the classic plot structure, the novel portrays elements of crime conventions such as red herrings to comment on the social and moral issues pervading. Christopher’s false accusation as a suspect alludes to the discrimination that social faculties may present people, heightening reader’s tension and informing them of the moral stance of acceptance and understanding that is necessary for restoration of order. Haddon’s manipulation of dramatic irony to add subversive humour to the novel, “this will not be a funny book” further develops responder’s understanding of truth human nature.
Christopher’s intertextual reference “I thought that I had to be like Sherlock Holmes and detach my mind” demonstrates the diverse and evolving nature of crime writing and the associated social and moral issues that are influenced by a composer’s context. It is a composer’s purpose and contextual values and influences that shape their creative works. A convention of crime writing can be manipulated, adhered to or completely subverted to enable a composer’s views and ideologies to resonate whilst entertaining and edifying their respective audiences. Rear Window’ directed by Alfred Hitchcock, ‘Anil’s Ghost’ by Michael Ondaatje, ‘The Big Sleep’ directed by Howard Hawkes and ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in The Night-time’ by Mark Haddon are four texts which are paragons of the highly diverse nature of the crime writing genre as each engages with the convention of crime’s investigation yet representing and examining the associated contextual social and moral issues of each text effectively.