Trailblazers: Jane Austen and Alexander McCall Smith

Is there a place for the positive in crime fiction? Regular readers of my novels know I believe the answer is yes. We must extrapolate a bit, but it seems Alexander McCall Smith, author of the hugely successful Ladies No. 1 Detective Agency series, may agree. In an article published this month titled “Beauty Locked Out” in The New Criterion, Smith argues the case for general fiction, using Jane Austen as his opening salvo.

Jane Austen, Smith points out, is perhaps the most successful novelist of the past two centuries, because: “Her novels seem to fulfill a deeper need in today’’s readers: the yearning for an ordered and innocent world in which violence and conflict are absent.”

I would add, “or resolved in a positive way by the story’s protagonists.”

In short, Smith argues that grit and edge are but one side of the human condition; that there’s room in literature for beauty, calm, humor, and peace as well. Perhaps neither Jane Austen nor Alexander McCall Smith set out to prove this claim, but there can be no doubt they’ve both done so. Because, he says, we readers do not want a diet of unremitting gloom. And you know what? We crime writers don’t want such a diet, either.

In this, both Jane Austen, who died in 1817, and Alexander McCall Smith, writing almost 200 years later, are both trailblazers. As are many crime writers working today.


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