Books: Metaphysics of Murder

Article excerpt

The Cambridge Companion to Crime Fiction

Edited by Martin Priestman

CAMBRIDGE pounds 15.95 (308pp) pounds 15.95 (plus pounds 2.25 p&p per order) from 0870 800 1122

What Oxford calls a Companion, Cambridge calls a Guide, and vice versa. Unlike the massive and informative Cambridge Guide to Children's Literature in English (for example), the Companion to Crime Fiction consists of 14 essays on aspects of the genre, from Paul Clifford to Paul Auster, and from Chesterton to Chester Himes.

The authors have a good deal to say about the Newgate novel, about the American private eye, about "black" crime fiction. The problem is that often they say it in someone else's words. Running through the whole collection like a dull refrain is a spate of recycled observations: "as Robert Barnard has shown"; "as Symons notes"; "as Howard Wincant has it".

They keep coming back to certain key moments, such as Chandler's "Down these mean streets a man must go..." You even get them quoting one another, as when Stephen Knight refers to Martin Priestman's appraisal of Agatha Christie: "He shows that her focus on women characters included victims, murderers and sympathetic characters. …