Find your way around Tartan Noir
Extract from Tartan Noir: the essential guide to Scottish crime fiction
By Len Wanner
Published by Freight Books
Typically, detective fiction tells the story of one man’s quest for truth, if not justice. Stereotypically, the fictional detective tells his own story, that of a lone wolf who lays down the law of the jungle as he roams the mean streets of an urban waste land in search of redemption for our sins, a good man who all too often does the wrong thing, but always for the right reason. Through the lens of this ‘private eye’ the author of such a novel lets us look at what goes on when the lights go out. He, for he too is typically a man, lets an outsider do what the police can or will not do when he looks into private indecencies of public interest. Not only does this furnish him with a narrative strategy, it also lets us see the public’s indifference to the private indignities which often attend the exposure of perceived indecencies, and that soon forms our shared resolve to find a way through the thicket of clues and conspiracies. Of course, time and again the alpha male investigator loses said way among loose women and looser plots. He will even lose consciousness, repeatedly, and at times he will risk losing the powers of both consecutive thought and plot continuity. And yet he loses neither his courage nor our confidence. On the contrary, he gradually wins our trust as a professional with principles, the last of the good guys, and in the end this knight errant finds his grail, often tarnished yet always transformative.
So much for the stereotypical detective novel. Yet beyond this stereotype, detective fiction has long been notable for a number of serious literary merits, including the wide held belief that the first form of crime fiction was a detective story. Seeing as that would make detective fiction the starting point of a diverse literary heritage that has spanned some 180 years, a good starting point for this chapter may be 1833 and “Théorie de la Démarche”, “The Theory of the Walk”. According to its author, Honoré de Balzac, this essay paved the way for a new investigative technique by expanding ground-level sociological observation with wide-angled metaphysical insight. The first to use this technique in detective fiction was Edgar Allan Poe. In a short story of 1840, titled “The Man of the Crowd”, he presented the case of a curious Londoner who develops theories about criminal degeneracy as he looks at people through a crowd of strangers, and this story has since been seen as the X-ray of detective fiction.