Vengeance in Blood: A Detective Lacy Fuller Novel
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The excitement is the scenario itself, at once both familiar the drugstore on Eighth Avenue and heightened in drama A hunt for a serial murderer! A movie made in Homestead! The fluidity of fantasy also explains the striking overlap of straight women and lesbians as fans of woman detective fictions. Many lesbian detective novels are marketed and sold to a wider not exclusively lesbian-identified audience. Writers like Katherine V. Forrest, Laurie R. King, J.
Redmann, and Mary Wings have all published their lesbian detective novels with mainstream presses. Over and over in this book, fans show up as powerful creators of their own meanings. Fans of Sue Grafton imagine and discuss who would star in a movie that will never be made. Fan groups of Jodie Foster and Patricia Cornwell imagine the private lives of the star and author in ways that give their fictions different meanings. Nor are these fantasies limited to what actually happens in the book, movie, or television series. In the television programs described in the Curve essay, the women characters sometimes have romances with men, and some of the episodes and plots are more heterosexual than others.
These very qualities of the outsider, the eternal bachelor, and the adventurer make the traditional male hero appealing. But the same traits in a woman give her a different flavor. The result is often deliberately mixed signals. Both Hemingway and Hennessy had previously played film roles as lesbians, so for some audiences there was already a meaningful history in this casting. Picturing the woman detective always involves a bottom line, and the sexually subversive nuances of this character make her more of an economic risk for television and movies than for publishing.
In the s, publishing technology became cheaper because of digital cameras that produce high-quality products, so smaller ventures such as the Mysterious Press and the Poisoned Pen Press thrived in that decade with a list of detective titles. For the major publishers, the cheaper technology also encouraged novelty.
At the end of the s, the major houses reported bigger budgets for fewer best-seller authors, but the result was that many more authors were picked up by smaller publishers. While publishing has become less costly, television and film production costs keep going up. Television series are actually more flexible than movies because television has the ability to develop a character and even to make changes within one season to accommodate audience responses.
So television has been relatively adventurous about portraying professional women investigators, even during the s, long before Hollywood did so. As this book was going to press, two new woman-investigator shows premiered on the Fall network television lineup. The Morris and Gugino characters are sexy but sturdy, and abrasive when they need to be. Clearly, the networks think a quick-thinking woman with a license and gun is a good prime-time risk. Unlike television, a film has no system of revision or long-term development after its release. All of its characterization takes place within a two-hour span, and its popularity depends on reviews and box-office returns within its first week of distribution.
The video release will bring in more profits, but its returns usually reflect early reviews. The financial stakes are enormous. But her all-business, nowarmth character is also the least fleshed-out in the script. Internal Affairs is preoccupied with the theme of the cop as a criminal at heart, which is also the prickly subtext of most detective stories.
The ability to think like the bad guys is the ability to catch them. This secret-outlaw theme continues with the woman detective. Any reader of Sue Grafton or J. Redmann remembers the ease and even glee with which their women P. The catch is that lesbians have also been characterized as secret outlaws, often in a far less playful way. Crime stories usually push the guys and the girls into separate niches—male villains and investigators, on the one hand, and female victims and fatales on the other.
The romance story in all its forms works hard to gloss over the bumps and pitfalls of heterosexuality. But the femaledetective genre actually depends on these tensions to sustain the story. Nor are these heroines actively hunting husbands. The appeal of the female detec tive story to heterosexual women readers probably resides in its crankiness and suspicions about men. The heroines imagined by the likes of Grafton, Cornwell, and Sara Paretsky are women who love and sleep with men, but who also face stubborn sexism in their fields, abusive men in the world at large, and patterns of violence that are often directed at women.
How does any real-life heterosexual woman do so? In Robert B. Parker—famous for his hardboiled Spenser character—introduced a new P.
- The Wizards Last Spell.
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To look right and feel right, the woman P. A generation ago, that movie would have ended with Gracie giving up life in the Bureau for life with a beau.
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In turn-of-the-twenty-first-century Hollywood, with a full decade of woman investigators elbowing their way onto the screen, Gracie is allowed both. Yet the entire premise of Miss Congeniality—the makeover of a tomboy FBI agent into a swimsuit contestant—poses anatomy and fashion as combined problems for this relatively new Hollywood character, the professional woman investigator, not just a dame with a gun, but a licensed woman in a hardboiled tradition: in short, the female dick.
She would know that soon enough. Besides, once she made the trip all the way down to this section of town, she would be less likely to dance off to some all-male dick shop. I needed the business. The detective story is all about bodies, usually beginning with homicide, the disturbing discovery of the body, a threat to meaning and order. The goal is to restore order through the justice system.
When she does appear in the traditional story, the woman shows up as a body—if not the victim, then the seductress or suspect. The interrogation scene in Basic Instinct says it all—a roomful of guys and the lethal blonde in a skirt who uncrosses her legs.
And as a gender and sexual outlaw, the female dick will be a more complicated case to picture onscreen, less straightforward, more conflicted than her male counterparts Sherlock Holmes, Lieutenant Columbo, or Sam Spade. A genre like the crime story works only so long as there are readers and audiences literally willing to buy into it. Yet these formula Westerns, romances, and soaps about a white, heterosexual America are shot through with suspicions and doubts about these values and ideals.
Also, while their formulas remain the same, genres change with the times. A good example is the horror genre, which has always been preoccupied with sex— Dr. But since the development of the slasher movie in the late s, just after the sexual revolutions of the s, questions of violence and sexuality have exploded in this story.
Retail marketers know this, too. Actually, the television series was as much science fiction as investigation drama, and it relied on a more conventional structure—a male and female pair of investigators—as opposed to the lone rookie Starling.
Despite these differences, viewers were predisposed to think of the television heroine in light of the female FBI character who had so recently attracted national attention. In this early s constellation of The Silence of the Lambs, The X-Files, and Cornwell, we can trace a story and character that captured the cultural imagination. The hook of this story is a body switch a savvy woman shows up instead of a man at a crime scene focused on bodies. As one critic has pointed out, women and minorities altogether made up only 20 percent of the FBI in the s, but in movies and television shows of the era, women made up almost 50 percent of this federal force.
The detective is Chevalier C. Watson marries and drifts from Sherlock briefly, only to return for further adventures with his buddy. Poe and Doyle established the brilliant detective hero who relied more on brain than brawn to solve the crime—the armchair detective. Yet women were very much present in the genre both as writers and protagonists. The professional woman investigator was a historical rarity until the s. The detective story was Americanized and masculinized in the same breath, with the innovation of the rough-edged crime story in the pulp magazine Black Mask in the early s.
Black Mask introduced the writer Dashiell Hammett, a former Pinkerton detective determined to bust the polite conventions of the British-style detective yarn. The new American detective was smart but, more important, street-smart, a tough action hero. Cain, and Cornwell Woolrich embellished the mystery story with violence, cynicism, and infamous mean streets. Danger, deadly women, tests of wit, and macho personas—add guns, booze, and reckless bravado, and the testosterone-driven model of this hero is complete.
Scholars love to talk about detective stories as low-brow versions of high-brow ideas. The detective is Oedipus, the secret killer who keeps tripping on his own guilty past. Or the detective is Freud, the transgressive hunter of troubling secrets. So despite its low-brow status, the detective story, like the Western, has also gotten considerable respect and attention as contemporary male epic. Little wonder the detective has been associated with Oedipus and Freud, and characterized as a guilty and brutal investigator of secrets.
Jack Nicholson slaps the terrible truth out of Faye Dunaway in Chinatown Along the way, he meets his own dark capacities for violence against women. That year, federal legislation prohibited discrimination in law-enforcement hiring at all levels, and the percentage of women in police and government agencies slowly began to increase to 5 percent in and 9. Yet through much of that century, girls grew up reading and idolizing the amateur girl sleuths of adolescent literature. These widely read series emerged in and continue in updated forms today.
Nancy Drew, Cherry Ames, and other young heroines were clues to the fabulous future awaiting this character and her professionalized, posts fans. These series provided an alternative fantasy for the young girl, who for most of the century had been offered books with either romantic heroines even Jo March eventually marries , or endless guy-adventure heroes, Odysseus through Hawkeye and Huck, whose war stories and frontier adventures were taught as universal experience.
The thrill of Nancy Drew or Trixie Beldon was their mobility, their capacity to follow their curiosity on forbidden nondomestic and nonromantic quests.
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Even though the girl sleuth might flirt with her beau, she ended her adventure snaring a criminal rather than a husband. As Bobbie Ann Mason points out in her loving tribute to these old series, the unspeakable subtext in these innocent teenage adventures was sex. Sexual knowledge hovered at the boundaries of these stories—the intimacies with girl pals, the attractions to the young men and to adult danger. For this grown-up readership, the Nancy Drew template already had it all: a recognizable world of clothes and cars; a network of reliable girlfriends; the exuberant power of mobility and curiosity; and sexual exploration without need for commitment.
All this heroine needed was a gun, a divorce, and a private investigator license.