Special Collections’ crime writers archives are being used to support innovative research projects.

‘Crime Fiction’ is a broad term, which covers many sub-genres and represents a high proportion of the total number of books read during the twentieth century. It is enduringly popular: by 1939 1 in 4 books sold was a detective novel. More recently, sales of crime and thriller books have overtaken sales of general and literary fiction, with 18.7 million units of crime fiction sold in 2017.

This genre has long been the subject of analysis, with writers (such as W.H. Auden and T. S. Eliot) acknowledging the ‘guilty pleasure’ of detective fiction, whilst taking a literary approach to its codification. In ‘Aristotle on Detective Fiction’ Dorothy L. Sayers articulated a central tenet of crime fiction, the subversion of the fair-play rule: ‘the right method is to tell the truth in such a way that the intelligent reader is seduced into telling the lie for himself’. Although crime fiction has changed enormously over time, the rules and subsequent reader expectations remain.

Academic interest in crime fiction has increased in recent years, as part of expanding interest in the field of popular literature and culture studies and cultural theory. Researchers have also begun to address the politics of specific works and mainstream culture, as well as theoretical and historical approaches to the study of genre fiction over time.

Research Project ‘From Scribble to Crime Novel: A Stylistic Approach to the Crime Fiction Writing Process’

Dr Christiana Gregoriou is an Associate Professor in the School of English at Leeds. A stylistician, she studies the linguistic make-up of literary texts and has a special interest in crime fiction.

Dr Gregoriou is in the process of developing a wide-ranging research project exploring the development of intentional reader misdirection – Sayers’ subversion of the fair play theory – using Special Collections crime writers’ archives as source material. Using notes and annotated drafts from these collections, the project will trace how the fair play device is embedded in the creative process.  Material from the archives can show how an initial description of the criminal might be carefully finessed over several drafts to ensure that they are foregrounded enough to be remembered, but their importance is diminished enough to misdirect the reader. As a result, a book’s final draft plays ‘fairer’ than the first.

The project will consist of a number of activities and outputs, which may include conference papers, keynotes, publications and engagement activities. We hope that this will open up a range of potential research approaches to crime writers’ archives, both at the University of Leeds and beyond.

A longer version of this article will be published in the May 2019 issue of ARC magazine.