As a young reader and moviegoer, I had two favorite genres: comedy and crime. My crime reading and viewing was mostly of an earlier era: the novels of Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, James M. Cain and Jim Thompson, and films featuring mugs like Humphrey Bogart, James Cagney, Edward G. Robinson and George Raft.
It was later that I was taught a distinction between detective fiction and crime fiction. By my professor’s definition (I’ve heard others since), a detective novel is told strictly from the point of view of a detective. You only know what he knows. A crime novel may be told from the point of view of a criminal, a victim, or a bystander (innocent or otherwise.) It can even be told from multiple points of view, employing a crosscutting technique so often used in film and TV. This can raise the stakes, and often begs the categorization “thriller,” which I use to describe my books.
My main character is a detective, but in three of the books, the reader knows who the killer is long before the detective does, even before the killer kills. The story often begins with a murder and ends with a solution, as all detective stories do. But there are other murders along the way, and plots and schemes, and attacks and counterattacks. There are elements of romance as well as mystery. My goal is to make the reader hunger to find out what happens next, rather than wondering what happened before.
My newest book, The Last Jew Standing, is different from my others in that the entire story is told from the point of view of the detective, Dan Reles. We only see what he sees, and often, by the time he finds out what the criminal is up to, the damage is already done. My goal was to create a story that was just as thrilling as a multiple-POV story, but with only one narrator. To do that, I created a situation where the character found himself, (along with his family and his town) in increasingly desperate danger.
Then I challenged him to get out of it.
Michael Simon is the author of THE LAST JEW STANDING (Viking 2007). You can visit his website at http://www.michaelsimon.info.com/.
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