Crime Fiction: A Global Phenomenon

Author: Bill Phillips, Universitat de Barcelona, Spain
Published: November 30, 2016

Citation: Phillips, B. (2016). Crime Fiction: A Global Phenomenon. IAFOR Journal of Literature & Librarianship, 5(1).


Crime fiction, if you choose to classify it in its broadest sense, has a very long history. Detectives can be found in ancient texts from around the world. One of the things these texts reveal is a common global desire for justice to be done, and to be seen to be done. Often serving as political and/or religious propaganda, they provide assurance that the authorities are protecting their people from wrongdoers and injustice. Edgar Allen Poe’s short story “The Murders in the Rue Morgue”, published in 1841, is often held to be the first detective story, and Poe’s cerebral hero, Auguste Dupin, provided the model for later literary sleuths such as Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot, all three of whom collaborate on a regular basis with the police. Ironically, however, Poe’s model represents a significant change in direction with regard to earlier crime/detective fiction. No longer concerned with justice, or a just society, Dupin, Holmes and Poirot are concerned solely with the solving of a puzzle to the satisfaction of their own egos. Rarely, if ever, are the social causes behind the crimes they investigate revealed. While it is true the stories are comforting in their conservatism, change is resolutely avoided. By the nineteen-seventies, detective writers began to deconstruct the traditional English golden age and American hard-boiled crime genre and were returning it to its former concerns. Around the world crime writers are now using the genre as a means to explore themes such as discrimination, corruption, inequality, poverty and injustice. The crime novel, and especially the postcolonial crime novel, is the social novel of our day.


crime fiction, postcolonial studies, social novel