Crime Thyme

Posted: 2nd July 2019 by Christian in Blog

It’s funny what shapes politics. For me it was travelling. Reading, history mainly. Talking with friends. And carefully noting *who* believed what. But there’s something else: Crime Fiction.

Crime fiction absolutely helped shape my politics.

I did, and still do, read a lot of ‘hard boiled’ crime stuff. That simply means, well, it means different things, but for now it means ‘private detective stories set around Prohibition’, a time in America of great social change and powerful organised crime.

If you’re thinking of Macintosh coats, cigarettes and snub nosed revolvers, sure. There’s more to it than that, but you think of that because two writers especially put it in there. Dashiell Hammet and Raymond Chandler.

Hammet was openly a Communist at a time it was unsafe to be so. Chandler rarely discussed politics so openly but it’s clear from his most famous character, Marlowe, that he’s at least hard liberal. His attitudes towards race, his respect for women, his understanding of how social pressure makes criminals…

These are all elements of crime fiction. And crime fiction is, at the end of the day, about people who, definitionally, are losers. And in a capitalist society, more so than ever, what makes a *loser* is related to social capital as much as financial capital.

Good people *obey* in these stories.
Good people never have opinions.
Good people are never desperate.
Or they would not be good people.

As I grew older, I realised more and more that the genre was a list of radicals. Joseph Conrad, Akunin, Mosley, Traven, Dorothy Parker, Highsmith. All some shade of lefty.

Crime fiction is *about* the marginalised, the voiceless, those who have made mistakes and those who cannot find justice to who the status quo is poison. Leftist concerns. Reading those people’s work made me more sympathetic, more interested in understanding, people who have lost.

Which is to say there’s no right wing crime fiction, but it tends to manifest more as the thriller. Powerful people who’s amazing lives are taken away. The crimes threaten banks and presidents. The best crime novel I have ever read is about a bell hop. Or then you just get dim idiots writing stories about the moral scare of the day.

I still prefer crime fiction written by radicals. But not for politics. But because I like stories about the losers.