My newest "Dark Passages" column at the Los Angeles Times is now up, mixing together reviews of Andrew Pyper's THE KILLING CIRCLE and Guillermo Martinez's THE BOOK OF MURDER in a musical metafiction concoction:
The majority of current crime fiction adheres to a well-worn template, even if writers don't admit as such. A murder turns carefully crafted order into chaos, and the process of investigation not only unearths how deep those layers of chaos are but also restores a sense of order with the murder's solution -- however illusory. Nowadays, that template acts as a bass line for the progression of a variety of character-driven melodies and harmonies based on plot and setting, and the whiff of formula is fading into the background of literary chord progressions. Today's readers are invested more in human behavior at its most extreme than in the intellectual exercises of a previous age of mystery that we call a Golden one.
Stretching this musical metaphor as tight as piano wire during a particularly vexing tuning session, if mystery fiction has had its Baroque and Classical ages already, what era is the genre in now? The many heirs to Raymond Chandler suggest Romanticism, as do the plethora of serial killer novels with their affinity for blood and rising body counts. Modernism emerges with the social crime fiction of Laura Lippman, Dennis Lehane, George Pelecanos and, most recently, Tana French. Or perhaps, like 21st century music, 21st century crime fiction is all about neo: neo-classical (Louise Penny), neo-noir (original work published by Hard Case Crime) and neo-romantic (the renewed popularity of historical mystery set during the first Romantic Age).
So what of those with a more avant-garde leaning, those who derive pleasure from taking apart the usual structures and blending them together in a post-modern smoothie?