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François Gallix and Vanessa Guignery
p. 7-8

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1The articles in this volume were for the most part papers presented at an international conference on crime fiction that took place at the Sorbonne entitled “Crime fictions – Subverted codes and new structures”. The aim of the volume is to focus on the evolution of a specific genre, crime fiction, on the blurring of its contours and on the subversion of its codes in English and American novels and films.

2Our journey will start by looking back into the literary past so as to point out some of the first shifts of the genre, in novels by Arthur Conan Doyle, Robert Louis Stevenson, or Agatha Christie. In these texts, the frontiers between genres are porous, and the integration of one genre within another can sometimes open onto contradictory readings and interpretations. These models of the past are sometimes revisited, re-appropriated, deconstructed, rewritten, so as to create original works of art that may be said to “replenish” the genre, to quote John Barth on postmodernism.

3The second stage will lead us to focus more particularly on the new structures and subverted codes of contemporary crime fictions. Novels by Thomas Pynchon and Charles Palliser thus foreground the heuristic quest which is at work in the text but frustrate the reader’s expectation by denying him/her any final resolution or solving of enigmas, enhancing on the contrary the elusiveness of truth. While James Ellroy integrates history within crime fiction, thus destabilising the genre, John Grisham invents the genre of the legal thriller, and Max Dorra and Peter Lovesey take up the challenge of writing short stories in which the murderer is the reader.

4At this point of the volume, an interlude is proposed to the reader with two short stories written by Max Dorra and Peter Lovesey and inspired by François Gallix’s paper on their works. Each author decides to eliminate the other, strictly for literary reasons !

5Our quest ends with the cinematographic genre, analysing the main features of crime fiction in films, focusing for example on what appeals to the spectator in whodunnits and on the reasons why Hitchcock disliked the form. Among the issues dealt with are also the difficulties of adaptations from books, the semantic mutations in crime films, and the analysis of specific strategies such as that of the flashback.

6This international conference is yet another proof that crime fiction is now considered as a thought-provoking challenge to the writing of any text, whatever its genre. The subverted codes and new structures amply justify the free choice of constraints, comparable to those of poetry. As Bertold Brecht put it: “le fait qu’une caractéristique du roman policier consiste à exécuter des variations sur des éléments plus ou moins constants élève ce même genre tout entier au niveau esthétique. C’est un des signes auxquels on reconnaît une branche cultivée de la littérature” (86).

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Barth, John, “The Literature of Replenishment. Postmodernist Fiction” Atlantic 245.1 (Jan. 1980): p.65-71.

Brecht, Bertold, Les Arts de la révolution, Paris, l’Arche, 1967.

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Bibliographical reference

François Gallix and Vanessa Guignery, “Preface”Sillages critiques, 6 | 2004, 7-8.

Electronic reference

François Gallix and Vanessa Guignery, “Preface”Sillages critiques [Online], 6 | 2004, Online since 18 June 2009, connection on 27 January 2022. URL:; DOI:

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About the authors

François Gallix

Professeur Émérite de Littérature anglaise, Université de Paris IV-Sorbonne

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Vanessa Guignery

Professeur de Littérature anglaise, École Normale Supérieure Lyon

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