Edited by Fiona Peters & Rebecca Stewart
Crime Uncovered Series
Bristol: Intellect, 2015
Paperback. 218 p. ISBN 978-1783205296. £19.50
Reviewed by LeRoy Lad Panek
McDaniel College, Westminster (Maryland)
Antihero presents the reader with fourteen essays plus an interview with writer Paul Johnston. Their subjects challenge the cataloger’s integrity and ingenuity for they not only include crime novels, detective novels, films, and comic books, but also television series from Britain, Denmark, and the United States. The editors divide the essays into “case studies” and “reports.” Writers discussed in them include Patricia Highsmith, James M. Cain, John Burdette, Jim Thompson, Julia Kristeva, and James Elroy. Contributors also include the heroes of television crime dramas “The Sopranos,” “Ray Donovan,” “Luther,” “Breaking Bad,” “Dexter,” “The Killing,” and “True Detective” as antiheroes. The editors supply a general introduction that skims over each essay’s contents.
It is not really clear in this sort of work who the imagined reader is supposed to be—something everyone who sets finger to keyboard is supposed to ask and answer. I suppose that there are some who are familiar enough with all of the books and videos discussed and intellectually limber enough to engage the varieties of literary theory dispersed throughout the essays. But not many. There is a tincture of the academic convention about the whole work, sadly one of the banes of contemporary academe where graduate students anxious to build their vitae scoop out bits of their dissertations and members of the professoriate write up a seminar session or two. The essays themselves—both those of the six grad students and the nine academics— reflect intelligent and perceptive writers, the kind of folks I would buy a beer for and with whom I would like to sit around and talk books about and television. The problem, for me, is the subject.
In the worlds of crime and detective fiction it is a lot harder to identify someone who is a thorough-going hero than someone who is an antihero. Find a main character who actually likes authority and the status quo. Pick out a hero whose life is free from dysfunction. Indeed, choose a physical or social dysfunction and a character in crime and detective fiction can be found who possesses it. And does just being a woman, Asian, African, Hispanic, gay, lesbian, bisexual, autistic, having PTSD, etc. qualify a character as an antihero? Because many of the essays deal with characters defined by the crimes they commit, Antihero suggests that crimes define them as antiheroes. And this definition works with Highsmith and Cain and some of the characters from television series. But then there’s the interview with Paul Johnson who comes out and says about his detective heroes that “I wouldn’t go as far to say that my leads are antiheroes, though.” And even though thoroughly messed up, the cops in “True Detective” hardly fit into the category of Walter White from “Breaking Bad.” This sort of inconsistency and lack of focus make Antihero more like one volume of a journal devoted to popular culture than a study of a topic of interest to readers of crime and detective fiction. And that’s too bad.
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