Crime Scenes

Modern Crime Fiction in an International Context

by Urszula Elias (Volume editor) Agnieszka Sienkiewicz-Charlish (Volume editor)
©2014 Edited Collection 343 Pages


Crime Scenes: Modern Crime Fiction in an International Context examines the ways in which crime fiction has developed over several decades and in several national literary traditions. The volume covers a wide spectrum of current interests and topical concerns in the field of crime fiction studies. It introduces twenty-four original essays by an international group of scholars divided among three main sections: «Genres», «Authors and Texts» and «Topics». Issues discussed include genre syncretism, intertextuality, sexuality and gender, nationhood and globalization, postcolonial literature and ethical aspects of crime fiction.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the Author
  • About the Book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Introduction
  • Part I: Genres
  • Literary Codes of Conduct in PRL Crime Fiction: Barańczak. Joe Alex and the Powieść Milicyjna: Thomas Anessi
  • Milicja Novel - Incapacitating Readers
  • Creation of Literary Hybrids
  • Code of Conduct
  • Self-Constructing Liminality
  • Works Cited
  • “Way too meta”: Readers, Writers and Transmedia in Castle: Nina Holst
  • Works Cited
  • A Pothead Detective Challenging the Genre: Thomas Pynchon’s Inherent Vice: Nina Muždeka
  • The setting and the quest narrative
  • The character of the detective
  • The detective novel and ideological concerns
  • The outcome and conclusion
  • Works Cited
  • The Quest for Identity in Academic Mystery Fiction: Elżbieta Perkowska-Gawlik
  • Works Cited
  • Tartan Noir: Crime, Scotland and Genre in Ian Rankin’s Rebus Novels: Agnieszka Sienkiewicz-Charlish
  • Echoes of Chandler
  • The Police Novel
  • Gothic overtones
  • Investigating the State of Scotland
  • Conclusion
  • Works Cited
  • Part II: Authors and Texts
  • Banville, Simenon, Stark – An Existential Ménage à Trois: Stephen Butler
  • Works Cited
  • Wolfgang Görtschacher
  • Constructions of Identity and Intertextuality in Martha Grimes’s The Black Cat
  • Settings and Constructions of Identities in The Black Cat
  • Intertextuality in The Black Cat
  • Conclusion
  • Works Cited
  • Cingöz Recai at Work: A Study on Early Turkish Crime Fiction on Film: Ayşegül Kesirli Unur
  • Who is Cingöz Recai?
  • Cingöz Recai on the Silver Screen
  • Works Cited
  • LSD Investigations: The End of Groovy Times and California Noir in Inherent Vice by Thomas Pynchon: Arkadiusz Misztal
  • Works Cited
  • Investigating Evil: Crime Fiction Remodelled in When We Were Orphans by Kazuo Ishiguro: Monika Rajtak
  • Conclusion
  • Works Cited
  • Bloody Typical: Genre, Intertextuality, and the Gaze in The Cutting Room by Louise Welsh: Monika Szuba
  • Genre
  • Intertextuality
  • Gaze
  • Conclusions
  • Works Cited
  • Whose Letter? Possession, Position and Detection in Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Purloined Letter”: Jørgen Veisland
  • Works Cited
  • The Detective as Reader: Narration and Interpretation in Arthur Conan Doyle’s Detective Stories: Jadwiga Węgrodzka
  • Works Cited
  • Crime Fiction in South Africa? Nadine Gordimer’s Rendition of Crime in “Country Lovers” and “Town Lovers”: Marta Aleksandrowicz-Wojtyna
  • Works Cited
  • South Asian Sleuths: Colonial, Postcolonial, Cosmopolitan: Bernd-Peter Lange
  • Orientalist and vernacular crime fantasy
  • Post/colonial Whodunit: HRF Keating’s The Perfect Murder
  • Postcolonial Revision: Jamyang Norbu’s The Mandala of Sherlock Holmes
  • Postmodernist and modernized South Asian sleuths
  • The sleuth brought home, deconstructed: Vikram Chandra’s “Kama”
  • Conclusion: The Missing Detective found at a Price
  • Works Cited
  • Part III: Topics
  • Her Majesty’s Own Murderer? Queen Victoria and Jack the Ripper in Popular Fiction: Dorota Babilas
  • Victims and suspects
  • The Royal Conspiracy
  • The Royal Ripper’s life in fiction
  • Conclusion
  • Works Cited
  • Gender and Genre: Changes in “Women’s Work” in Australian Crime Fiction: Rachel Franks
  • Colonial Australia
  • 1865 to Federation
  • Federation to World War I
  • Between World Wars I and II
  • The 1940s and 1950s
  • The 1960s and the 1970s
  • The 1980s to Today
  • Conclusion
  • Works Cited
  • “Snort for Caledonia” – Drugs, Masculinity and National Identity in Contemporary Scottish Detective Fiction: Marie Hologa
  • Drugs in (Scottish) Reality and Detective Fiction
  • The Scottish detective and the hard-boiled tradition
  • Drugs and Scottish Masculinity
  • Works Cited
  • “…the abyss gazes also into you” – Guilt and Innocence in British Golden Age Detective Fiction and Contemporary Crime Novels: Miriam Loth
  • The puzzle – and some theories
  • One of the usual suspects – Agatha Christie
  • Investigation continued – Minette Walters
  • Conclusions: the jury is still out
  • Works Cited
  • An American in Europe: US Colonialism in The Talented Mr Ripley and Ripley’s Game: Jacqui Miller
  • The Talented Mr Ripley Europe, Transformation and Exploitation
  • The Cinematic Mr Ripleys
  • Ripley’s Game/The American Friend
  • Conclusion
  • Works Cited
  • The Perverse Charm of the Amoral Serial Killer: Tom Ripley, Dexter Morgan and Seducing the Reader: Fiona Peters
  • Crime Fiction, Justice and Morality
  • Aesthetics of Murder
  • Seduction, Otherness and the Inhuman
  • Works Cited
  • More Than Meets the (Camera) Eye: Detective Fiction in Times of CCTV: Cyprian Piskurek
  • Cooperation between readers and detective fiction
  • Detective Fiction as a metanarrative
  • Close-circuit television in the UK
  • Less than meets the eye: Ian Rankin’s Exit Music
  • Conclusion
  • Works Cited
  • The Eating Detective: Food and Masculinity in Robert B. Parker’s Spencer Series: Marta Usiekniewicz
  • Works Cited
  • What’s the Word? Sexism and Political Correctness in the Crime Fiction of Robert B. Parker and Sara Paretsky: Arco van Ieperen
  • Is Spenser PC?
  • Gender-Specificity and Names
  • A Woman’s Place
  • On the Surface
  • Male-Female Stereotypes
  • Conclusion
  • Works Cited
  • The Tut: Paul D. Brazill
  • Notes on Contributors


David Malcolm

The criminal turn, le moment policier, seems upon us. Crime fiction, in one shape or another, is everywhere. It is surely one of the most successful genres of the late twentieth and early twenty-first century, and one of the most expansive. (If in what follows I concentrate on British texts, that is because that is what I know best. Many other examples could surely be generated in the contexts of many other national literatures.)

First, success. The crime novel sections in bookstores are well-stocked and well-patronized. Crime novels are reviewed intelligently and respectfully. Substantial scholarly attention is given to crime fiction. (This volume of essays is evidence of that.) For sure, crime fiction is to a degree kept within the fences of its own literary reservation, and crime writers do not win major (but by whose definition major?) literary prizes. Their own, however, are worth winning, and bring prestige and cash. Indeed, a picture of the recent fiction of the UK would be incomplete without reference to work by P.D. James, John le Carré (his crime fiction, not just his espionage novels; we should not forget that his first novel, A Murder of Quality, is – as it sounds - a murder mystery), Iain Rankin, and David Peace. Crime fiction is, of course, an international genre (as the essays in this collection demonstrate), and recent US fiction, for example, cannot be discussed without referring to Stanley Ellin, Walter Mosley, James Ellroy, Cormac McCarthy, and Dennis LeHane. The essays in this volume make clear how widespread crime fiction is throughout the world.

Second, expansion. Crime fiction is, indeed, an aggrandizing genre. Its morphology is impressive. Women detectives are there from the start (see Leonard Merrick’s Mr Bazalgette’s Agent from 1888), although they come into their own and take on complex and very subversive qualities in the later twentieth century (Sara Gran’s Clare DeWitt and the Bohemian Highway [2012], with a heroine wild even by San Francisco standards, is a case in point). The geographical scope of crime fiction is almost unparalleled. Unlike many genres, it seems unbound in space. Southern Africa, Scandinavia, India, late Soviet Moscow, even Aberdeen (Stuart MacBride’s novels) have joined the classic crime fiction locales – the mean streets of LA and a pre-Clean Air Act London. Indeed, one can imagine a situation in which no provincial European town will one day not have its own existentially troubled detective, randomly but regularly strewn corpses, and fat cat corruption.

Nor is crime fiction bound in time. Historical crime fiction is one of the genre’s staples, and in some cases, for example, Anthony Horowitz’s Foyle’s War series of TV films (made and released from 2002) and Len Deighton’s SS/GB ← 9 | 10 → (1978) has produced work of some distinction. (Deighton’s novel points to crime fiction’s territorial ambitions, for SS/GB is, strictly, allohistorical, rather than historical, fiction.) Crime fiction has also showed itself able, and willing, to take on topics of the utmost seriousness – beyond the trivialities of homicide, crime passionel, chicanery, and defalcation. James Ellroy’s Underworld USA Trilogy, for example the marvellous and disturbing The Cold Six Thousand (2001), addresses the corruption of an entire nation, a topic that in another context is more modestly, but nonetheless bitterly, addressed by Philip Kerr’s recent Bertie Gunther novel Prague Fatale (2011). As if that were not enough, the comic potential of crime fiction is exploited in Kyril Bonfiglioli’s fine trilogy of novels centred on the crooked art dealer Charlie Mortdecai, for example Don’t point that thing at me (1972).

It is also another remarkable sign of crime fiction’s expansiveness that mainstream writers, not primarily or solely known as dedicated crime fiction writers, have taken on the genre. John Banville’s alter ego Benjamin Black is one. But Ian McEwan’s The Comfort of Strangers (1981) and his hugely successful Atonement (2001) certainly bear the marks of the genre. So, too, does Graham Swift’s The Light of Day (2003), with its reworking of Raymond Chandler’s hard-boiled detective in the leafy suburbs and shabby main streets of South London. Peter Ackroyd’s most successful novel, Hawksmoor (1985), is a murder mystery and deviant police procedural, as well as a frightening trip into the depths of London’s history. It is not surprising that some of Britain’s most eminent recent novelists have tackled crime fiction. David Peace’s work in the genre is well known. But he also writes fiction that is not crime fiction, although even in it there are crime’s genre markers. See the monumental GB84 (2005), for example. China Miéville’s The City and the City (2009) is political allegory, metaphysical speculation, and crime novel, starting with the classic topos of the detective’s inspecting a victim’s body. Keith Ridgway’s enigmatic Hawthorn & Child (2012) is a collection of crime stories, as well as an examination of the limits of knowledge, of the power and the pretensions of story, and of places of spiritual and physical desolation. Once again, many other examples, in many other contexts, could be generated.

Of course, all this interest in crime might give us pause. Why are murderers and crooks everywhere in our literature (and on TV screens, and those in cinemas)? Why this fascination with something that most of us will never do, and most of us will never (one hopes) experience? Answers to such questions are beyond the remit and above the pay-scale of a humble student of literature, but one can speculate. Romantic and post-Romantic psychopathology and interest in the sociopathic? (After all, crime fiction does coincide with Romanticism – James Hogg’s The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner ← 10 | 11 → (1824) has, at more than one level, more than just a hint of the detective story; Edgar Allan Poe’s crime stories date from the 1830s and the 1840s, and is not the great “The Man of the Crowd” (1840) the story of a tail?) A deep sense that there’s something deeply rotten in the social fabric, which crime fiction can well expose? A terror of the existential borders that we might cross if we’re unlucky or careless? A desire to know – after all, the detective either understands the mystery and unravels it, or doesn’t, in which case he or she is just like us anyway, and we can sympathize? And does the detective in the crime novel – that most urban of genres – not traverse the great city, or the smaller, bringing the pieces together, just as he or she brings together the most disparate of social groups? After all, crime in fiction often draws the whole society into the frame, an ambition that many nineteenth-century novelists had, but which many later writers have ducked out on. Or do we just want to be taken out of the drabness of our quotidian subfusc into the glamour, however raw, however scary, of those dodgy streets in LA?

The essays in this volume attest to the geographical scope of crime fiction (both in terms of setting and place of production), the thematic range, and the seemingly endless resource of the genre to make and remake itself. It is to be welcomed for its breadth of perspective and for the close analyses of texts that it contains. Of course, much work remains to be done. It is to be hoped that this is not the end of the editors’ investigations. ← 11 | 12 → ← 12 | 13 →



← 13 | 14 → ← 14 | 15 →

Literary Codes of Conduct in PRL Crime Fiction: Barańczak, Joe Alex and the Powieść Milicyjna1

Thomas Anessi


The publication of Leopold Tyrmand’s Zły2 in 1954 marked the beginning of a 35-year love affair between readers (and publishers) in the Polish People’s Republic (Polska Rzeczpospolita Ludowa, hereafter PRL) and crime fiction.3 The success of Tyrmand’s novel demonstrated the material incentives for writing such works: Zły provided the provocatively anti-Communist writer with access to the necessary government ration coupon4 and sufficient funds to purchase his own automobile, a rare luxury in 1950s Warsaw (Urbanek 86). This was in spite of the writer’s well-known reputation as a promoter of “decadent” Western jazz music and a flashy non-conformist: Tyrmand sported a greased-backed, duckbill haircut and dressed in narrow trousers, rather than following the fashion for wide-cuffs, imported from the East. He wore his trousers short enough to expose colourful striped socks, which he bragged were politically correct, since they were bought in Moscow. His wide, loud ties, including one with a hand-painted image of a mushroom cloud over the Bikini atoll, helped set a fashion trend and inspired the name for the so-called bikiniarze5 - decadent, Jazz-loving youths who were the object of frequent criticism in the official press (Urbanek 76). ← 15 | 16 →

Tyrmand’s novel focused on the exploits of a vigilante in 1950s Warsaw, and portrayed the Polish capital as rife with petty criminals and gangs. Yet, this did not discourage the Czytelnik cooperative6 from publishing the book; on the contrary, the work’s detailed descriptions of post-war Warsaw as a gritty urban landscape and its lack of overt political engagement made it more than merely a popular bestseller. It was an early literary example of the use in the PRL of cultural goods as a social “safety valve” – a phenomenon representing or expressing views that ran contrary to the official “propaganda of success,” and thus created an illusory sense of freedom that helped relieve pent-up pressures caused by the communist regime’s repressive political culture. Following the success of Zły, there followed a flood of “domesticated” crime novels focused on highlighting the work of the PRL’s national police force, the Milicja Obywatelska, commonly known as the milicja. These cheap paperback novels, which included elements of detective stories, police procedurals, “hard-boiled” crime fiction, and spy novels, provided a convenient and safe alternative to less politically correct works like Zły.

Yet, in spite of the contrasts between Zły and the milicja novel, a metonymous link can be traced between seemingly politically incorrect (non-engaged) works like Tyrmand’s “dark knight” tale and novels featuring the milicja as “white knights” upholding law and order. This common thread was the publication of these home-grown, domesticated crime stories in serial form alongside “non-engaged” fiction, which included translated Western detective and police fiction, and “pseudo-translations” of such works, written by Polish writers under foreign-sounding pseudonyms, like Joe Alex (Maciej Słomczyński) and Randon Noël (Tadeusz Kwiatkowski), and featuring plots set in Western countries – Britain and France in the two cases above. These series were issued by major publishing houses, including Czytelnik (With a Dachshund series) and Iskry (Silver Key Club series), as well as by the Ministry of National Defense (Labyrinth series), and were widely distributed, with editions ranging from 30,000 to as many as 100,000 copies. Although the novels in them functioned as so-called “recreational literature,”7 these series carried specific persuasive messages to readers about law enforcement and the role of the individual in relation to the system. Although the predominant themes in these novels relate to the upholding and the breaking of the law, a second set of meta-narrative messages was carried through the serialized publication of milicja novels alongside works falling into ← 16 | 17 → the second and third categories, that is, foreign translated novels and pseudotranslations.

These latter works helped legitimize the milicja novels, but they also often complicated the otherwise straightforward code of conduct offered to the readers of milicja novels, due to specific differences between these three types of crime fiction in their orientation towards the reader, whose response can be conceived of in theoretical terms as ranging from passive consumption of content to active engagement in the construction of meaning. Moreover, each of these three categories of crime fiction typically found in these series involved a different set of intended readers: the milicja novels were aimed at a domestic audience, and their translations at foreign, usually Western readers; the pseudo-translations, however, were ostensibly aimed at a foreign readership, while in actuality, the intended audience were readers in the PRL. The split in this last category, as will be shown, provided grounds for the novels to contain messages and express certain attitudes about conduct that otherwise would have been considered unacceptable as an improper model for readers in the PRL.

Milicja Novel – Incapacitating Readers

According to critic, writer and translator Stanisław Barańczak, the level of reader engagement was an essential element in defining the persuasive function of these novels. In essays written on the milicja novel in Poland in the 1970s, and later, in his book The Incapacitated Reader (Czytelnik ubezwłasnowolniony, 1983), Barańczak provides a foundation for understanding how persuasion functions in this genre, which he claims – using the language of the Polish legal code – aimed to “incapacitate” its readers by depriving them of the ability to make independent decisions (37).8 The pseudo-translations and the foreign works, in contrast, demanded more active participation on the part of the reader. This is first because the foreign settings and cultural milieux in these works created disjunctions between the Polish reader’s world and that of the text, which in some cases even involved temporal dislocations, such as travelling back to Christie’s ← 17 | 18 → pre-war bourgeois Europe or the Victorian England of Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes.

In The Incapacitated Reader, Barańczak describes the milicja novel genre as a distinct form of crime fiction, a hybrid between the classic English detective novel and American hard-boiled police and detective novels (98-102).9 Like the classical English form, the milicja novel is based on clear moral distinctions between right and wrong, with the law enforcement apparatus and the criminal element unproblematically representing each side. Yet, the novels’ “natural,” linear narrative structure, their featuring professionals (working as a group) rather than amateurs as the agents of detection, and their focus on finding and catching the criminal, rather than on reconstructing the crime – all place the genre on the American side of action over English contemplation. The novels are therefore less puzzles for readers to solve alongside the fictive detective, than adventure stories pitting law enforcement – generally in the form of a milicja officer – in a battle against the criminal element.

The milicja novel also tends to share the “open” urban landscape of American crime fiction, rather than the closed structure of the classic English variant, in which setting and suspects are limited to provide the reader with a navigable path from crime to solution (Incapacitated Reader 103-105). In the milicja novel, for example, the murderer might prove to be somebody from outside the cast of likely suspects: in one extreme case, the “killer” turns out to be a group of German soldiers who have been literally hiding underground since the war (“Polish Milicja Novel” 288). Yet, unlike American crime fiction, in which the moral dilemmas faced by the private eyes and police in the stories are what makes its best representatives, like Chandler and Hammet, read more like “high literature,” there is no room for ambiguity in the milicja novel. Instead, readers are generally either persuaded to identify with the hero as a hard-working, common man or to project his desirable qualities – generally in the form of hyper-masculinity – onto themselves. Yet, due to its failure to encourage readers to think independently on either the level of plot or character, the milicja novel is deprived of a key quality that makes Western crime fiction popular:

A novel of this type assumes the popular and attractive formula of crime fiction, only to immediately destroy the primary source of its popularity and attractiveness. […] The milicja novel is unable to make use of any chance to provide the reader with independence, neither as found in the novel-as-puzzle, nor as offered by the novel-as-problem; yet the situation could not be otherwise, since its main ideological impera ← 18 | 19 → tives, from which it is unable to extricate itself, result in the milicja novel representing an extreme case of incapacitation of the reader. (Incapacitated Reader 105)

Another feature that generally sets the milicja genre off from both of its Western prototypes is its focus on the public and collective, rather than the individual and private. Although the detective hero of the milicja novel uses a mix of logic and intuition to make progress, he (almost inevitably a male) generally relies on the resources of the police force, its labs, exhaustive database of personal data [kartoteka] , and centralized capacity to provide additional manpower to effectively realize the actions necessitated by his individual case work (118-19). In this sense, the novel’s hero is not so much the officer as it is the apparatus to which he belongs, and any flaws in his execution (breaking the law, making a mistake) are usually discovered and corrected by his superiors, and result in a reprimand – generally in the form of a verbal rebuke.

Barańczak’s essay marks out the dynamics of how ideal conduct is modelled within the milicja novel genre. The individual functions as an element of a system, an organizational structure that makes successful individual initiative possible. Amateurs and “incidental” detectives (a friend or relative of the victim, or an eye witness to the crime) always defer to and cooperate with law enforcement officers. On the side of the criminal element, the message is even clearer: crime never pays. With logic, science, intuition, and, most importantly, the vast apparatus of the national milicja combining to form a near perfect defence against efforts to commit the perfect crime, illegal activity is reduced to, if not an anachronism, a product of irrational thinking. Given the certainty of success by the milicja and the clearly marked moral hierarchy dividing the heroes (former partisans, self-made men from working class families, etc.) from the villains (those with bourgeois trappings, etc.), the reader’s primary creative act in navigating what Barańczak calls a “branchless” or “straight-path labyrinth,” decides which potential suspects to eliminate right off due to their pedigree, and how the incriminated milicja personnel will be later exonerated (“Polish Milicja Novel” 309-10). The creation of this domestic crime fiction genre was not particularly hard, since a large body of Western crime and detective fiction was structured according to a “cops get their man” formula that could be easily adapted to a socialist reality.

Creation of Literary Hybrids

The post-thaw period of “minor stabilisation” in the PRL saw wide-spread publication of detective fiction, including in 1960 the first publication in decades of an Agatha Christie novel (Ten Little Indians), and the onset of the literary career of PRL’s best-selling author, Joanna Chmielewska, whose first detective novels ← 19 | 20 → came onto the market in that decade. Likewise during this period, Polish film began to move more decidedly beyond wartime and post-war survival stories to tales about life in the PRL, including Andrzej Wajda’s Innocent Sorcerers [Niewinni czarodzieje, 1960], which was his first non-war story. Nonetheless, in this period of relative freedom (relative to a period with a great lack of freedom), political censorship (and self-censorship) remained factors in the production of all art.

It was during this era that Maciej Słomczyński10 began writing crime novels. He borrowed from Western formulas, but in addition to creating his own take on the milicja novel, he also helped introduce an innovation: pseudo-translations of Western crime fiction. Both of these hybrid genres had their own distinct type of protagonist, who were iconic (at time laughably so) of the systems they represented. Capitan Ziętek of Słomczyński’s milicja novels (written under the pseudonym Kazimierz Kwaśniewski) has the pedigree of an archetypical socialist hero. Hearkening from a small town, he is not a man of great means. Materially, the only vehicle he can afford is a motorcycle. His police work, in his own words, mainly involved “plain hard work that didn’t require the mental prowess of a genius” (Kwaśniewski, I Order the Actors… 191). Yet, Ziętek’s words are merely an expression of his modesty, one of the features of his socialist ethos, which also includes complete dedication to his job, a lack of religiousness, abstaining from drinking, and a mild nature. The image of the Capitan as a hardworking and honest true-believer cannot but appear ironic to Polish readers of the 1960s. This indicates that Słomczyński was encouraging readers to feel a sense of superiority in relation to him that was common in the social attitudes of Poles in general to real milicja officers (e.g. jokes about them were rife). Ziętek is therefore less likely to be hated (like a real milicja officer) for his potential to abuse power, than pitied for his naïveté. The character of Ziętek can be seen as a bridge between the heroes of Stalinist-era Socialist realism and the pained martyrs of the post-1956 thaw, on the one hand, and the less socially engaged and ironic protagonists who pervaded 1970s police films like Excuse Me, Do They Fight Here? (Przepraszam, czy tu biją?, 1976) and Bareja’s comedies, including What Will You Do If You Catch Me? (Co mi zrobisz, jak mnie zlapiesz, 1978) and the Solidarity-era Teddy Bear (Miś, 1981).

Maciej Słomczyński’s pseudo-translations of English detective fiction, collectively known as the Joe Alex novels. In the novels, the eponymous hero is both (ostensibly) the author of the novels themselves and their main character, an independently wealthy part-time detective who splits his time between solving ← 20 | 21 → crimes for Scotland Yard and writing detective fiction based on his exploits. Alex shares many of the features that are stock for the detective novel: an attentive sidekick (his fiancée), computer-like analytical skills and uncannily keen senses and memory. Readers are encouraged to engage the novels not only as classic detective stories – puzzles to solve alongside the fictive detective – but also to navigate structural and narrative labyrinths and to untangle multiple layers of dissonance between the realia presented in these works and that of the PRL. The aforementioned somewhat postmodern looping of authorial identity in the novels finds its parallel in structural complexities employed by Słomczyński. I Quietly Followed Him in Flight (Cichym ścigałam go lotem, 1962), for example, begins ironically with “Epilogue, part one,” in which the character Joe Alex reads part two – comprising his newly-completed novel – to a group of friends in his new-purchased house in the English countryside (purchased especially for this purpose). Where There is No Ten Commandments (Gdzie przykazań brak dziesięciu, 1968) takes this structural and authorial play a step further, as the novel opens with Joe Alex sitting before his typewriter unable to break his writer’s block and to put anything on paper, save his newest novel’s title: Where There is No Ten Commandments. The reader can assume the phone call that comes next is precisely that story. These and other literary features typical of the belles lettres (such as real [Ionesco, Eumenides, Kipling] and manufactured epigrams), as well as complex shifts in temporality, and the complication of dichotomies, such as that between pulp fiction and classic literature and between author and translator, suggest parallels between Słomczyński’s crime fiction in the 1960s and his major translation project of that decade: Joyce’s Ulysses.

One reason for these connections is that Słomczyński’s crime novels quite literally grew out of his translation of high literature, Joyce’s Ulysses in particular. Because publishers in the PRL at that time (and generally throughout the era) paid a standard by-the-word rate for literary translation, it was impossible for Słomczyński to support himself with the fee he received from translating Joyce’s high-modernist opus magnum. Crime fiction provided an import source of income during his translation of Joyce’s novel, which he carried out throughout the 1960s.11 Słomczyński distanced himself from his pulp fiction alter ego, describing Alex and himself as “two completely different people with different interests and talents”:

[…] I was face with a prosaic choice: either give up on the translation or perish from hunger. I couldn’t choose either of the two. So I invented a guy who could support me during this work. I called him Joe Alex. Later, I got so used to his helping me and to my parasitic lifestyle that I couldn’t bring myself to send him back into the ← 21 | 22 → oblivion from which I summoned him. And so we live in peace and work together in harmony. (Dubrawska 14)


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2014 (September)
Genre studies Postcolonial Literature Gender studies literary tradition
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2014. 343 pp., 1 b/w fig.

Biographical notes

Urszula Elias (Volume editor) Agnieszka Sienkiewicz-Charlish (Volume editor)

Urszula Elias studied English Literature at the University of Gdańsk (Poland). Her research interests include British lesbian literature and Victorian women fiction (especially the issue of «New Womanhood»). Currently she is working on George Egerton’s collections of short stories. Agnieszka Sienkiewicz-Charlish is a member of the Scottish Studies Research Group at the University of Gdańsk (Poland). Her research interests include Scottish literature, Gothic and crime fiction, especially «Tartan Noir» and Ian Rankin.


Title: Crime Scenes