Saturday, April 4, 2015

Amateurs, Professionals, Villains and Victims.

 CWA 1990 Lists: (in ranked order) (by author)

The Protagonists of the 1990 CWA List of the Top 100 Mystery Novels.

It is facile to think of crime fiction as centering around the detective, whether it is an amateur caught up in circumstances, or a hard-drinking gumshoe or a world-weary law enforcement official. While many of the novels on the CWA list fit this description, others focused on the perpetrators or the victims, and occasionally on the families of the victims. Furthermore, spy novels and war adventures are also represented. 

To some extent, my determination of who was the central protagonist was arbitrary. In Christie's And Then There Were None, the victims share time with the unknown killer, while the detectives are footnotes. Nevertheless, a choice was made, in the above case, the central characters were deemed victims. Accepting this imprecision, the entries were categorized as follows.

If a protagonist assumes the role of the detective but does not belong to a profession which commonly investigates crimes, I am placing these entries in the category of amateur sleuths. These can be family members, bystanders, and individuals of most any job description. These appear in stand-alone novels or else those in series where the principal characters seems fated to live out their lives happening upon one crime scene after another. Brother Cadfael is a prime example of the latter. If you want to live to a ripe old age, stay away from Father Brown and Jessica Fletcher. Amateur sleuths were the most common of the main characters with 24 entries.

Law enforcement officials including police investigators, FBI, sheriffs and constables place 15 entries on the CWA list. Private eyes (in British parlance, public eyes, e.g. Samuel Spade) and that rare breed of freelance consulting detectives (Sherlock Holmes, Lord Peter Whimsey and Hercule Poirot) appear as the main protagonist in 18 novels. Lawyers, barristers, solicitors and prosecutors, those who are involved in the judicial branch of the criminal justice system are the central figures in 7 selections.

The perpetrators are front and center in 16 novels. The victims and their families are the focus of four.

Spies, occasionally involved in traditional mysteries, occasionally in professional intrigue, account for 10 selections. Two of the novels were primarily military adventures.

CWA list by category.

Amateur sleuths  24
Law enforcement officials  15 
Private eyes, freelance  18
Legal professionals    7
The perpetrator(s)  16
The victim(s)    4
Spies and espionage     10
Military adventures        2

Up next, comparing the Mystery Writers of America selections to those of the Crime Writers' Association.


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