an odd blend of detective and fantasy
Inspector Tyador Borlú, of the Extreme Crime Squad in the European city-state of Besźel, investigates the murder of Mahalia Geary, a foreign student found dead with her face disfigured in a Besźel street. He soon learns that Geary had been involved in the political and cultural turmoil involving Besźel and its twin city of Ul Qoma. His investigations start in his home city of Besźel, lead him to Ul Qoma to assist the Ul Qoman police in their work, and eventually result in an examination of the legend of Orciny, a rumoured third city existing in the spaces between Besźel and Ul Qoma.
British & American Crime Fiction
We all know that there is a difference between British crime thrillers & American crime thrillers. The simplest outline of the difference is in how the victim dies: a quiet death by poison or a brutal murder usually in a hail of bullets. I don't think you need to be told which is which.
Recently I read a long article about the American crime-fiction writer Dashiell Hammett written by the great contemporary Canadian authoress Margaret Atwood. Within the article is a brilliant comparison of American & British crime writing.
In American detective fiction “There were more corpses, with less importance bestowed on each: a new character would appear, only to be gunned down by a fire spitting revolver." This is so true of American detective stories. By the time it is over anywhere from five to ten people have been killed and they have all been gunned down by a fire-spitting revolver . In British crime fiction one death is more than enough. They'll spend 200 pages tracking down this vicious killer -- and along the way there might be bash on the head, or an almost death. In American crime fiction there are many people who die and "less importance is bestowed on each." Since we hardly know these people, what is one, or ten, more dead.
As Margaret Atwood goes on to say, British crime novels are clues novels: Who was where is very important. We are following small, but very important clues, not a trail of dead bodies. To continue to quote Atwood, in American crime fiction “The action was dispersed, not sealed up in a nobody-leaves-this-house puzzle: dark mean streets were prowled, cars were driven at speed, people blew in from elsewhere and hid out, and skipped town."
What a great analysis of the differences. Yes, that's American crime fiction: cars are driven at speeds, dark mean streets are prowled, people blew in, skipped town. The nobody-leaves-this-house crime fiction is quintessentially British. In America we leave the house and blow up the house with everybody else left inside the house. We blow things up, speed away in fast-flashy cars. They stay in the house and follow a trail of clues.
Finally, what marked out American crime fiction for Margaret Atwood was that "there was a lot of drinking, of substances I had never heard of, and a great deal of smoking." Again, how American: drinking, lots of it, exotic drinks, and plumes of cigarette smoke. Tough guys smoke cigarettes. They aren't afraid to die; they love to smoke and drink.
How different the two are, and what a brilliant short analysis: lots of corpses, lots of drinking, lots of smoking -- and fast cars as people come in & out & die in bunches. And then there is the no one leaves this house, lets follow small clues, who was where when. No one is saying one form is better than the other. All we are saying is that the forms are radically different.
I would suggest as a starting point Chandler's critical essay "The Simple Art Of Murder" in which he reviews the crime fiction works of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
"The English may not always be the best writers in the world, but they are incomparably the best dull writers."
Oh, wait, that's me.
I have as usual many opinions. Back later.
I may need to interview you, as one of my enthusiasms is crime fiction from around the globe.. re what areas interest you.
Spueing names, I like Mankell, and Rankin ....
Do not wave a book with food or pets as the trick in front of my face.