When there’s so much going wrong in the real world, it can feel like a relief to escape into the wrongs of another world. Why else would crime fiction be having a moment right now? The Netflix series Lupin is on track to be watched more than 70 million times, and many viewers will likely follow up their bingeing with a dive into the show’s literary origins. Arsène Lupin—a French thief created in the early 20th century by the author Maurice Leblanc—moves easily between conspicuousness and invisibility. That skill allows him to carry out his cons of righteousness, which translate well to the current moment. In the show, Assane, a con artist inspired by Lupin, is similarly motivated by injustice, but his crimes reckon more with France’s history of racism and plunder.
While some modern writers are taking cues from mysteries of the past, others are reimagining tropes of the genre. Kim Young-ha’s Diary of a Murderer complicates the trend of the relatable murderer: One of the characters is a charming former serial killer with Alzheimer’s, which forces readers to grapple with his memories and question why they may choose to sympathize with him so readily. And female authors are writing some of the best current crime novels, giving their protagonists more psychological depth and purposeful deception than some male writers tend to.
In the 1940s, Raymond Chandler, one of the most well-known detective-fiction writers, took his skills to Hollywood. He wrote for The Atlantic about his experience as a screenwriter, which he found thoroughly boring after only two years and stifling for writers’ talent, preferring instead the written page. His books would go on to inspire generations of crime enthusiasts, including the detective novelist Walter Mosley, who has worked to expand the genre to include the Black experience.
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