Crime Fiction and the City: The Rise of a Global Urban Genre

Author: Bill Phillips, Universitat de Barcelona, Spain

Published: October 16, 2017

Citation: Phillips, B. (2017). Crime Fiction and the City: The Rise of a Global Urban Genre. IAFOR Journal of Cultural Studies, 2(2).


In the twentieth century, in the United States, the figure of the nineteenth century frontier pioneer metamorphosed into the hardboiled detective and crime fiction became urban. Unlike the English Golden Age detective who flitted from country house to rural vicarage, the original hardboiled gumshoe plied his (never her) trade on the mean streets of cities such as Los Angeles, New York or San Francisco. Beginning with Raymond Chandler's portrayal of Los Angeles in his Philip Marlowe novels, American hard-boiled writers, many of whom interrogate and challenge the genre in their work remain, faithful to this urban identification. To name but three, Walter Mosley's Easy Rawlins stories, like Chandler's, are set in Los Angeles; Sara Paretsky's V.I Warshawski's are set in Chicago, and James Sallis's Lew Griffin novels in New Orleans. Given the enormous influence and global popularity of the American model of hardboiled crime fiction it is no surprise that the recent outpouring of international crime fiction is also almost exclusively urban. This paper will, however, challenge the assumption that specific cities, such as the aforementioned Los Angeles, be seen as "characters" within the narratives, or that urban crime fiction is are a reflection of the alienating nature of city life. Indeed the opposite may well be closer to the truth. This paper will analyse the relationship between the city and crime fiction with reference to the work of a number of writers from around the world.


detective stories, urban studies, crime fiction, Raymond Chandler