February 28, 2004


Belle Waring talks about "cosy" English mysteries, citing Rendell, Marsh, Sayers, and her particular favorite Tey. Ruth Rendell is someone you should absolutely be reading--the only mystery writer that matters, maybe--but I'm not sure that she's cosy. She has elaborate puzzle mysteries, in which you wait to find out the solution, but Raymond Chandler does too.* And Rendell certainly doesn't have the complete absence of threat and dread that characterizes the pure-puzzle Agatha Christie genre. About half of her own-name novels are psychological suspense stories rather than mysteries, and the last three Inspector Wexford novels have been as much concerned with social issues as with the puzzle. (My favorites are actually the ones she writes under the name Barbara Vine, especially The House of Stairs. These are also the artiest--I'm a bad genre fan.)

On Belle's favorite, Josephine Tey: Miss Pym Disposes is fantastic, and something that anyone who's dealt with an academic job market can appreciate, but The Franchise Affair--eeeugh. TFA exemplifies the kind of resistance I sometimes have to fiction, which is quite different from the resistance that makes me take ~p as true in a fiction even though p is explicitly stated. [See Tamar Gendler, "The Puzzle of Imaginative Resistance," and Brain Weatherson, passim.] I accept everything said in TFA at face-value as describing/determining what is true in the fiction, but the fictional world is just dead. Some characters are purely good and others purely vicious or purely dupes, and that's just not how life is.

John Holbo, aka Mr. Waring, has an excellent post about these two varieties of imaginative resistance (among other things); see esp. his comments on Saki's "The Great Weep."

*At least, when Chandler's solutions make sense. I realize that I owe you an explanation of what happened to the chauffeur in The Big Sleep. All in good time.

Posted by Matt Weiner at February 28, 2004 05:03 PM