Doug Selby plies his trade in Madison City, CA

January 29, 2017 at 5:34 pm (Book review, books, Mystery fiction, Trends in crime fiction)

I’m currently having  a great deal of fun putting together a presentation on mysteries for my AAUW colleagues. The first title I chose was “Hot trends in Crime Fiction!” I then decided to tone it down a bit; it is now “Current Trends in Crime Fiction.”

Having achieved that much, I then sat back, contemplated the general state of things, and asked myself in all seriousness what those trends might be. This list is what I’ve  come up with so far:

Domestic (i.e. psychological) suspense
Classics reissues and rediscoveries
International authors and settings
Use of actual historical personages as detectives
Historical mysteries
Regional mysteries (U.S.)
Increasing presence of women protagonists
Diminishing number of police procedurals
“Crime fiction is finally getting the critical respect it deserves”

This is by no means definitive, but at present, it seems reasonably workable. (I’ve already penned three posts on the subject.)

It then occurred to me to see if this subject had  been tackled elsewhere. As expected, the internet came through with “A History of Detective Stories: Current Trends.” This essay begins with a general assessment of the genre and then moves to a  discussion of the challenges posed to mystery fiction by rapidly emerging technologies.

129991 42613783-4154054732_4b843bd134_o

24788

The subgenre that most appeals at the moment is listed above as “Classic reissues and rediscoveries.” I recently wrote a review of The D.A. Calls In Murder, the first entry in Erle Stanley Gardner‘s Doug Selby series. I’ve now read the second and the third – The D.A. Holds a Candle and The D.A. Draws a Circle – and my enjoyment has increased with each perusal.

As I mentioned in the review cited above, these books are hard to find. I’ve been getting them via interlibrary loan from the Enoch Pratt Free Library, a wonderful facility which since 1971 has been designated as the (Maryland) State Library Resource Center. Alas, as the series progresses, the volumes themselves are proving to be increasingly fragile. As I was reading in bed the other night, I noticed small pieces of dark brown paper appearing on the blanket. These proved to be escaping from the book’s binding. I prodded the larger piece back into place, but it showed no great inclination to remain there. Now Pratt seems blessedly reluctant to discard books like this, but I can’t help feeling that I might be the last person to borrow this poor decrepit entity. img_20170128_162322_blib

 

One of the things I’ve really been enjoying about this series is its artless evocation of a bygone era. In the era between the two World Wars, Southern California was already undergoing some dramatic changes, yet the orange groves, apple orchards, small towns, (like the fictional Madison City where Doug Selby plies his trade)  and country roads were still a vivid presence.

The sheriff drove rapidly over the grade, out of the orange lands into the app;e country, and then down a gradual slope between snow-capped mountains to where the country abruptly changed from fertile soil to arid desert.

The dialog is snappy, but Gardner does not overdo the noir lingo. Doug Selby is a very appealing protagonist. Alongside him works Sylvia Martin, intrepid reporter. (Think Lois Lane of Superman fame.) In many noir novels and stories, the only woman on the scene is  the perennial femme fatale, so Sylvia’s presence is refreshing, to say the least.

In the climactic scene of The D.A. Draws a Circle, she and Doug, along with the sheriff, become embroiled in a shoot out. Doug is trying to protect her, while she’s quite literally fighting him off. Later she apologizes – after a fashion:

       “Gosh, Doug, I’m sorry I kicked at you. But you’re not the only one with a job to do. If I want to take risks, I’ll take them. I had to be in at the finish.”

Selby said, “You’ll stop a slug one of these days, and then what would I do?”

She said indignantly, “I’m just as much entitled to stop slugs as you are.”

“You’re a woman,” Selby said.

Sylvia Martin said, “Well, well. You’re finding that out, are you?”

Oh, yes, he certainly is….

The Selby novels are by and large composed of such dialog exchanges. They move along at a rapid clip; I’m finding them to be excellent escapist reading.

There are moments, though, when Gardner waxes unexpectedly poetical:

selbyexcerpt

Passages like this are welcome, as they’re so rarely encountered in this context.

The archive of Erle Stanley Gardner now resides at  the Harry Ransom Center of the University of Texas at Austin. Gardner’s study has been digitally recreated at this site. Click here to view.

2 Comments

  1. Angie Boyter said,

    And lots of gruesome violence. That is a big trend

    • Roberta Rood said,

      Alas, Angie, I fear that you’re right. I’ll have to add it to the the list.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: