Crime Uncovered Series: Antihero (2016) ed. by Fiona Peters and Rebecca Stewart

Source: Review Copy


This is the second book in the Crime Uncovered Series I have reviewed, with the other one being Crime Uncovered Series: Detective (2016), ed. by Barry Forshaw, which I reviewed just after Christmas.

Rebecca Stewart provides an excellent introduction to the collection, which contextualises and defines the term antihero well and engagingly, pointing out its long history in literature. She goes on to say that the antiheroes mentioned in this collection ‘critique the notions of heroism by disturbing and disrupting our expectations, and furthermore by enticing us to be complicit in this.’ This last part intimates the notion of these characters being negated of good qualities but still having ‘appeal’ for the reader. In addition the essays in this book are also said to look at the role of the antihero in crime fiction.

Fiona Peters starts the collection with her essay on Patricia Highsmith, comparing and contrasting two of her characters; Tom Ripley, who is a quintessential and well-known antihero and Vic Allen from the book Deep Water (1957). This essay also provides a useful introduction to Tom Ripley who is considered a lot in the subsequent essays, in particular what makes him and what made him “abnormal” or antiheroic and an interesting idea which cropped up in the essay for me was one made by Hilfer (1984) which likens Ripley to being an Iago figure.

Kent Worcester then takes the reader to the world of comic books, examining the character of Frank Castle, who is also known as the Punisher, and the issue of vigilantism is explored, as Castle has executed his own brand of justice to over 48,000 people. This is an article which caters well to both novice and long-time readers of comic books. Castle is suggested to be an antihero due to his lack of development (something which can also be seen in Ripley) and his black and white and pessimistic view on society. There is an interesting discussion point brought up at the end of the article to do with character labelling. Is the Punisher a super hero, an ‘aggressor type’ or antihero? However, this point came across as rushed at the end and I felt it could have been explained and explored further.

Nicole Kenley’s article looks at John Burdett’s Bangkok series, which has a corrupt officer, Sonchi Jitpleecheep as its central character. Kenley looks at the ‘multiple identities’ Sonchi has and fits them into the challenge of global policing. Sonchi is said to have continual moral anxieties about what he does, such as committing crimes to solve other ones and being involved in cover ups, but still does these things anyways. This essay is another good introduction to a new character (for me anyways), it’s just one I don’t want to get to know any more.

Gill Jamieson takes us back in time to Jim Thompson’s Lou Ford and the book The Killer Inside Me (1952) and Jamieson focuses on how the reader is made to interact with Lou and looks at the novel, alongside film versions. Adaptation is also a key topic within the essay and is suggested to be a form of ‘deviance’ in itself. The 1975 and 2010 film adaptations are compared, with particular attention given to the strong levels of violence included and which caused great controversy with people leaving screenings of it. Jamieson attempts to tackle some of this criticism but the idea that watching such violence has benefits did not convince me. Stylistically I didn’t appreciate the repeated use of the F word, as it did not add to the discussion and was unnecessary.

Alice Bentham’s essay is the first of many which looks at the antihero in TV, examining the character of Tony Soprano from The Sopranos. For a very aggressive gangster, Bentham looks at how such a character still has appeal and is relatable to, such as juggling his home and work life, dealing with parenting and having a sense of vulnerability which is encapsulated in his panic attacks. Bentham’s essay is also one of the first to flag up the idea of their being an ongoing ‘masculinity crisis,’ and how such shows with antiheroes can explore this issue of having to maintain traditional masculine ideals and be a more emotionally available partner and father.

The next TV antihero to be explored is Ray Donovan by Gareth Hadyk-DeLodder and he takes on some of the criticisms the show received in its portrayal of masculinity being derivative. Hadyk-DeLodder looks at the performative nature of masculinity and how the characters in this particular series are forced to assert and establish their masculinity at the cost of their family in order to avoid other negative consequences. Another idea also mooted in the essay is that the negative treatment of women is criticised by the fact the series is ‘saturated’ with such events, which will somehow make watchers contemplate its wrongness. This is not an idea I side with and think such images might have more of a desensitising effect instead.

Katharine Robbins continues the theme of TV antiheroes comparing Dexter with Breaking Bad’s Walter White and the latter can be considered to be better than the former. Robbins’ key reason for this is that the anti-hero, Walter White is not static and whose character clearly follows the trajectory of going from a good guy to a bad one. This notion is backed up by an interesting comparison to Macbeth.

Sabrina Gilchrist, although also looking at another TV show, Luther, turns the readers’ focus to the female anti-hero, a rare character due to audiences frequently not taking to them in the same way they would male antiheroes. Alice Morgan in Luther is said to be such an exception where she does not need to take on a strong supportive role in relation to another antihero (such as in Breaking Bad) and is able to step outside of the woman’s sphere of home.

Joseph Walderzak’s essays continues the theme of female antiheroes, this time looking at Sarah Linden from The Killing, who is a morally compromised police officer. Walderzak also mentions how the masculinity identity is in crisis and how the anti-hero is a character through which the struggle to balance traditional gender expectations, men and be a family man can be explored. However, he does on to suggest that the antihero is also a vehicle for women to explore similar issues and Linden certainly struggles with her various responsibilities, failing repeatedly to meet the basic demands of being a mother. An interesting issue that came up in this essay was that insanity is a theme which crops up much more quickly for female antiheroes than it does for their male counterparts and it seems that female antiheroes are much more quickly punished by society for their abnormality than male antiheroes are.

Mary Marley Latham returns to the world of books with her examination of Julia Kristeve’s Possessions (1998) which has a ‘feminist intellectual antihero,’ Stephanie Delacour. This essay also looks at the author who has styled herself and her character as the ‘James Bond of Feminism’. Overall I found that this article lost its’ focus quickly and the concept of the antihero goes by the wayside, as the piece goes off on a tangent concerning the symbolism of beheadings with female identity and also the concept of how the female identity emerges from being a baby.

Isabell Grobe’s essay concerns Rust Cohle, a philosophical antiheroic policeman from True Detective and looks at his how he develops his own identity/self-images and the consequences this has. It is these philosophical tendencies which seemingly make him more than just another hardboiled detective, along with his misanthropic attitude towards others.

In the interview section of this book Fiona Peters talks with writer, Paul Johnston about whether his flawed maverick heroes are anti-heroes. Although he does not think so, he does make an interesting point of suggesting Odysseus as an antihero. This was a good interview as the questions were relevant to the topic in hand and asked the sort of things readers would want to know about.

Carl Malmgren then begins the more thematic section of the book looking at the work of Patricia Highsmith and James Cain and how their crime novels (which diverge from the whodunit style) can be seen to still work within a functional analysis framework. Functional analysis was not a theory I had heard of before but I found it interesting to read about, as Malmgren explains it well and liked the notion of looking at crime fiction as a quest story.

Jacqueline Miller returns to Highsmith’s Tom Ripley looking at the fan fiction he has inspired, particularly due to the film adaptation from the 90s. Miller touches on the nature of writing fan fiction and the role it has and overall it seems that fan fiction concerning Tom Ripley attempts to make him more of a hero, reducing his darkness of character and criminality, whilst also increasing the use of explicit sexuality.

Mark Hill returns to the TV show the True Detective, but focuses on representations of masculinity, and how the two central detectives are unable to interact with women except as victims and are ultimately much happier in a woman free environment. The context of traditional ‘Southern femininity’ is also interweaved into the discussion.

The collection closes with Rodney Taveira looking at the writer James Ellroy and how he has shaped himself at points in his life as an antihero. The essay looks at how Ellroy’s persona has changed over the years and at the experiences and traumas which have fuelled his work such as his mother’s murder.

Final Thoughts

Overall, my favourite pieces of the collection were Fiona Peters’ essay on Tom Ripley and Carl Malmgren’s examination of Highsmith and Cain. As a collection I think on the whole the quality of the essays in regards to writing style and argument structure is stronger than those in Crime Uncovered Series: Detective. My rating which may seem low is reflective of my lack of interest in some of the characters focused on, as many of the pieces look at violent TV shows, which are not programmes I choose to watch. I think this book would suit people who enjoy the work of Patricia Highsmith and who have watched and enjoyed shows such as Breaking Bad, Dexter, The Sopranos and Luther.

Rating: 3/5

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