Deadline for abstract submissions: 31 May 2022
Modern detective fiction is usually considered to have started with Edgar Allan Poe’s three Dupin short stories and it is certain that the Sherlock Holmes short stories in The Strand magazine brought the new genre to the attention of the world. Other notable writers who helped shape the genre in the early 20th century, including G. K. Chesterton and Melville Davisson Post, stuck to the short form and managed both to innovate and to produce works which are still appreciated today. For Ellery Queen, writing in 1942, it was still possible to state that “the original, the ‘legitimate’ form” of detective fiction “was the short story” and to perceive the detective novel as an inflated short story. According to Catherine Ross Nickerson, “[t]he mechanisms of a detective narrative are more apparent in a short story, since there is less upholstery for hiding the ropes and pulleys. The shorter form also forces writers to make a more clear decision about whether to focus on the puzzle or on the character.”
However, today, some readers, writers and critics seem to prefer the longer form. For P. D. James, this is because novels give “opportunities for even more complicated plotting and more fully developed characters” and because writers “if visited by a powerful idea for an original method of murder, detective or plotline, were unwilling ̶ and indeed still are ̶ to dissipate it on a short story when it could both inspire and form the main interest of a successful novel.” In spite of this, short crime fiction still has enthusiastic readers, as has been proved by Martin Edwards’ and Mike Ashley’s numerous commercially successful anthologies, which combine long forgotten gems unearthed from various archives and stories on a particular theme written by contemporary authors. Two collections of P. D. James’s own short stories, published posthumously, have also sold extremely well; the prolific Joyce Carol Oates comes to mind as well for she regularly brings out collections of “mystery and suspense” stories which are instant successes on both sides of the Atlantic.
Short crime fiction is published in various contexts. Sherlock Holmes’s unexpected resurrection from the Reichenbach Falls is probably the reasons for many authors preferring the open series, with a beginning but no end except the author’s death, like Chesterton’s Father Brown stories. Several authors have however produced closed collections like Agatha Christie’s Labours of Hercules or Chesterton’s The Man Who Knew Too Much. Others, like Ellery Queen, have found the short format ideal for radio or television episodes. For authors who mainly write novels, like Ellis Peters and Kate Charles, a short story may provide a useful prequel or sequel to a series of novels. Equally, while detective novels are almost exclusively concerned with murder, authors frequently use the short story format to write about other, often less serious, crimes as Susan Pettigru King does in her series of stories, Crimes Which the Law Does Not Reach, published in Russell’s Magazine in 1857 and 1858.
We are looking for 20 to 25-minute papers about any aspect of short crime fiction in the English-speaking world including stories published individually in magazines, short story series, cycles or collections, anthologies, radio and television series or short plays. Papers on short crime fiction for young adults or children as well as adults are welcome.