New Dark Passages Column: on ‘Blanc Fiction’

At the LA Times, I use my unabashed love for Iain Sansom’s Mobile Library novels (THE CASE OF THE MISSING BOOKS is genius and the new one, THE BOOK STOPS HERE, is just as good) as a means of talking about crime novels that are light on gore and violence:

In the August issue of Paste magazine, Peter Langness praised what he

termed “blanc fiction” — crime novels with a lighter tone that

concentrate their narrative efforts on mining the human condition.

Though his primary example of Colin Cotterill’s “The Curse of the Pogo Stick”

(Soho Press: 272 pp., $24) doesn’t quite fit (some of the crimes, even

offstage, border on the bizarre and bloodthirsty), Langness scores more

accurate points praising “The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency” novels of

Alexander McCall Smith: Crimes of any kind (let alone murder) hardly

figure in the internationally bestselling series, eight books and

counting. “We are not here to solve crimes,” Precious Ramotswe, the

Botswanan “lady detective” in question, indignantly tells a potential

client. “We help people with the problems in their lives.”

The term “blanc fiction,” then, implies a sense of community between

the reader and the books’ characters. It might even be a better term

for what’s now called “cozy” mysteries, in which a crime’s commission,

detection and resolution recede into the background in favor of the

protagonist’s idiosyncrasies, whether on a personality, professional or

social level. Or, shrugging off complex reasoning, these books aim to

make the reader smile, to sip metaphorical bush tea for a few hours and

forget troubles in order to get happy — even on a temporary basis…

Read on for the rest.