Crime Fiction Essay

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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. Evaluate this statement.

Although the crime-writing genre consists of a wide array of subgenres and hybrids, these texts all focus on a criminal investigation using this as a platform/vehicle to explore and comment on the values and the social context in which it was composed. In doing so, crime fiction texts do not just tell a crime story; they make insightful social comments to inform responders. This is evident in P.D. James’ “The Skull Beneath The Skin” (Skull) which not only follows an investigation but also comments on the justice and the emerging role of women in 1980’s Britain while Alfred Hitchcock’s 1954 film “Rear Window” (RW) is a hybrid of the crime and romance genres, exploring not only American crime and punishment but also urbanisation and gender roles. Marele Day’s 1998 novel “The Life and Crimes of Harry Lavender” (Lavender) describes an investigation while also exploring its associated issues of justice and gender roles while Matt Groening’s 1995 Simpsons Episode “Who Shot Mr Burns?” (Burns) parodies the classic crime conventions, focusing on the ethics of capitalism and the modern justice system.

James’ 1982 novel Skull not only engages with the investigation of the murder of Clarissa Lisle, but also comments on gender roles and justice, appealing to its audience. In this text, Cordelia Gray reflects the increasing role of women in the workforce of the time, by being actively involved in the solving of a mystery. However Cordelia did not succeed in her task, which was to protect Clarissa Lisle, and even failed to prevent several deaths, including that of Simon’s. This shows that James believes Gray is incapable of dealing with such tasks, and by an extension, that detecting is “an unsuitable job for a woman.” James is warning her audience that despite the emerging role of women, they are still limited in terms of what they are capable of. Additionally, the other main females in the novel are no better. Clarissa is an egocentric, superficial femme fatale while Roma owns an unsuccessful bookshop and is in urgent need of money in order to keep her lover Colin, who is already married. Despite this, the males are also characterized equally as flawed as the females. Sir George is a dull, conservative Englishman who is a member of a right-wing, virtually fascist organisation, Simon is a fragile, insecure and socially inept teen, Ivo is a dying, bitter ex-lover of Clarissa’s while Ambrose is an insolent recluse. By providing no ideal character, James has reflected the more equalized gender roles of the 1980’s.

Furthermore, James does not conclude with the conventional ‘happy ending’ where justice is served and order is restored. She instead conveys a much more credible depiction of society, reflecting a 1980’s context. Although Simon is the killer, Gray positions us to sympathise him, as he is a young, timid boy who was influenced by Gorringe to murder Clarissa. Simon dies, and is therefore punished for his crime, however the reader is positioned to dislike Gorringe as he is a manipulative and arrogant man. He is not punished, and therefore we believe that justice is not completely served as he has committed crimes as well by interfering with evidence and tax evasion. Unlike cosy school traditions, Gorringe is not legally punished due to social issues such as class and economical hierarchy. As a minor rich aristocrat, Ambrose is safe within his social position, wealth and intelligence. In reality, it is possible for the police to know ‘whodunnit’ but not be able to bring anyone to court because they do not have the evidence, highlighting the problem with law and justice in modern society. Thus Skull not only explores the process of investigating a crime but also comments on social and moral issues of gender roles and the justice system....
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