Crime Fiction as Regional Fiction: An Analysis of Dialect and Point of View in Sheila Quigley's Bad Moon Rising1
Mandala, Susan, Style
This essay offers an analysis of Bad Moon Rising (henceforth BMR)2, the second in a series of novels by contemporary British author Sheila Quigley. As the characters prepare for an annual festival, a number of young women are found strangled and Quigley's detective Lorraine Hunt realises a serial killer is loose on her "patch" (90). At the same time, a young girl is kidnapped. While crime fiction generally and serial killer fiction in particular currently enjoy both popular and critical attention, BMR seems to have attracted very little academic discussion to date. No single book or book chapter on Quigley, the novel or the series could be located for review; journal searches (e.g., The Journal of Popular Culture; Crime, Media, Culture; Clues: A Journal of Detection) came up similarly empty; and trawls through the larger indexing databases in language, literature and the humanities (e.g., the MLA and JSTOR) produced little of interest to serious textual scrutiny. Media coverage, for example, swings between glowing tributes in the local papers (Sunderland Echo 's "The Mistress of Murder"), or contemptuous dismissals in the broadsheets, such as this one-line snub in The Observer. "Bad Moon Rising has a serial killer loose in Houghton-le-Spring. (Well, why not?)" (Gutteridge).
While various reasons might be given for why BMR has thus far failed to provoke academic debate, one likely contributing factor may be the issue of genre. To the extent that BMR has been noticed, it seems to have been taken for what it first appears to be, a piece of crime fiction, and as crime fiction, it does indeed fail to impress on several counts. As many have noted (Giaimo; Knight Form; Messent; Santaulària; Scaggs; Plain), literary crime fiction typically offers a social critique of some kind, often through the figure of a detective who is marginalised in some way, and thus in a position "to observe society and its institutions from a distance" (Santaulària 58). Only with difficulty, however, could such a reading apply to Detective Inspector Lorraine Hunt. As an attractive, white, middle class, heterosexual woman reasonably happy in her job, she is not marginalised by race, ethnicity, class, sexual orientation, body issues, or severe trauma, either personal or professional.3 Instead, her interior monologue reveals far more mundane concerns, such as a crush on one colleague (337) and a personality clash with another (8). It is similarly difficult to assign weight to BMR's killer, a man named Trevor, since he is little more than a cardboard cut-out. A fastidious child warped by a cruel mother, he becomes an obsessive serial strangler of young women as an adult, and is thus positioned as the abused child/outcast figure driven by fanaticism, according to Eva Erdman's matrix of killer types, the classic victim of "early abuse by a Bitch mother" according to Jane Caputi (103). In addition, he exhibits behaviours that readers of the genre are likely to find familiar (Gregoriou): he begins by killing cats, he collects trophies from his victims, and when he is not killing he mostly keeps himself to himself. Even his murders are relatively "mundane," as serial killer narratives go. While there is no wish here to trivialize violent crime or its representation in fiction, Trevor's killings, when put beside the likes of Hannibal Lecter's cannibalism in The Silence of the Lambs, seem pedestrian in comparison.
With a relatively uninteresting detective and a clichéd killer of unmemorable crimes, it is not difficult to see why BMR has until now been largely dismissed. I would like to suggest here, however, that BMR, while admittedly weak as crime fiction, emerges as a significant piece of regional fiction, and that as regional fiction it makes two important but thus far unnoticed contributions. Firstly, it uses dialect representation and point of view operations to challenge a particularly malicious resurgence of antipathy towards the urban poor current in the UK today, and secondly, it takes forward the canon of Northeastern regional writing in several important ways. …