Detective and the Thriller

Culture, taste, literature/detective

Detective vs the thriller

Sociology of literary genres

August 2020

Last week I finished reading two books on the Amazon kindle, one was a detective story and the other one was a thriller. Women in their early 50’s wrote them and both hailed from similar backgrounds in terms of income, class, legacy, education and most importantly, caste. In fact, they also belong to the same family; the writer of the detective story is a daughter while the writer of the thriller is the daughter in law. Yet, the flavour of the books were different as chalk and cheese or what is the same thing as typical detective novels would differ from the genre of a thriller. The difference is crucial between the two and has interesting sociological ramifications.

The detective novel which I read, as the name suggests is part of a series called Cosy Mysteries which means that it has a sense of cosyness about it that comes from contentment, partly because one has things in abundance but this also means that there is desire for no further. The detective, a woman, like the author in her mid-50’s is a development professional, bound to her wheelchair for movement outside of her home and depends on a crutch to move about indoors. She loves food, cooks well, entertains guests, gardens a bit, loves to travel, and does a lot of that, visits cafes and read books. Though her movements are over long distances, such distances do nothing to her behaviour, she speaks, thinks, reacts, responds, and sleeps and eats the same way as she would were, she never to leave her cottage in Shantiniketan. In this novel I read, the detective travels to Shimla to solve a suicide which she thinks is murder.

The thriller involves huge travel. The protagonist is a young male, a NRI who flies down to inherit a kingdom on the death of a childless patriarch and to find himself in the midst of a family power rubric wherein lies the lust and the love, the romance and the vengeance as the title suggests. The hero behaves differently in his new milieu as he has been born and brought up in the USA, comfortable in neither space, the opposite of the cosy and couch feel of our detective series. The pace of the thriller is racy, as characters are darting here and there for purposes know only to the hidden agents at work. The characters in the detective novel follow routines rhythm of their daily chores and even if they are fazed by something or the other, they return The pace seems crazy especially as the protagonist is unfamiliar in his surroundings unlike the detective who seems to be comfortable in all worlds at all times. While the detective’s movement is through her mental faculties, observation, reasoning, collation, and inferences, as they take the reader through mental calisthenics of guessing the criminal. The movement in the thriller is physical; the mind does not move here because the mind cannot move owing to the unfamiliarity of the circumstances that the protagonist finds himself in. He spends the narrative spaces in absorbing the strangers in whose world he finds himself in in the face of adversities as well as opportunities. Women are falling over him; men are tugging at him as he negotiates spaces of a medieval architecture. The detective, on the other hand is never caught unawares in the regal Shimla building of the Institute of Advanced Studies. She belongs to modernity and hence encounters her familiar world which may have people she has never met but they are just as well from within her world.

The thriller is too medieval for comfort discovered by a post-modern young man, there is a sharp contrast between the too desi and the one shade too much of the NRI. The agitation of one with the other constitutes the drama that is resolved through the sleaze of physicality. The detective, on the other hand encounters restrained emotions and sharp reactions of the mind, dualities of modernity over reason and passion.

When an incorrigible sociologist like me writes on the two genres, obviously would mean that the above is meant to climb spaces of the social reality. The detective is the elite whose space in the society is assured; the cosyness comes from her command over time and outcomes of the use to which she puts her time into. This means that she commands adequate social and intellectual resources to be comfortable with herself. The thriller writer, like her protagonist is a little iffy, she does not feel secure in her social entity, edgy with fear of being examined by the people who she lives with, always finding herself in alien situations, overwhelmed by strange people breathing down her neck. In other words, the thriller writer has stranger anxiety. Her strangeness with her situation is expressed in the youth and the masculinity of her character, the detective’s comfort is expressed in her protagonist, middle aged woman slightly compromised in her physical movements.

I mention that both writers come from the same social background, then how do they experience their objective reality so differently to represent the world views of two different classes? The detective has always been the entrenched elite, explaining the essential cosyness and the mental acumen rather than the need for physical energy while the high physical energy of the thriller is a will to strive, to achieve, to span across spaces, from which she has been hitherto debarred. The detective stories have morals and ethics, thrillers have egos, physical brawls, competition, and the need to get ahead of others, through chase and race. Thrillers do not need well ordered spaces, for the crime to be committed, to be hidden and to be detected. The thriller is an aspiration, detective stories are leisure. The difference between the two authors thus does not lie in the state they are in but in the state they want to see themselves in and the gradient between the two; the length and the angle of the gradient between the two states is the aesthetic quotient of the thriller.

About secondsaturn

Independent Scholar. Polymath.
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