However, Curran, one of the world’s foremost scholars on Agatha Christie, pointed out a notable absence in a collection that covers, “with one exception, the entire crime spectrum.” To wit:
“This is a personal disappointment: despite the wide variety of story types here there is no traditional whodunnit. Not necessarily a Miss-Scarlett-in-the- library-with-the-spanner exercise, but is a variation thereon too much to ask?”Curran goes on to say that, “Admittedly, there is little or no tradition of this type of writing in this country.” This is true, but given the fact that Irish crime writing is still a relatively new literary phenomenon, the same could be said of virtually every other kind of story represented in the anthology.
So: whither the traditional whodunnit in Irish crime fiction?
It’s possible, of course, that some authors commissioned to contribute to the anthology who might have written a traditional mystery chose otherwise, given that the writers were offered the freedom of a blank slate, and some opted to write a different kind of story than they might usually do. It’s also true, I think, that some writers who have recently debuted – Jo Spain springs to mind, as does Andrea Carter – have written novels in the traditional whodunnit vein, and may have contributed that kind of story had they been commissioned.
Overall, though, I think John Curran makes a very good point: the traditional whodunnit mystery has been largely notable by its absence over the last three decades of Irish crime writing. Is that because, as Fintan O’Toole once suggested, our historically small population and tightly-knit communities lent themselves to an almost immediate identification of a crime’s perpetrator, and thus whydunnits rather than whodunnits? Is it because Irish writers have largely, if not exclusively, tended to look to the American rather than British model of classic crime / mystery fiction? Or is it – a flight of fancy – a post-colonial hangover, and the ingrained, subconscious fear of being denounced as a spy or collaborator for fingering a perpetrator to the perfidious authorities?
Naturally, it’s very difficult to offer any definitive answers. I’d imagine that very few writers sit down to write a book with the above questions in mind; every book is a personal response to a unique set of motives. Perhaps the traditional mystery story will belatedly come into vogue in Irish crime writing (I would argue that Cora Harrison’s novels already fall into this category), and perhaps Joanne Spain and Andrea Carter are already in the vanguard. If so, it’s a new direction to be welcomed, and one that will add another layer to the depth and breadth of Irish crime writing.