This thesis consists of two components: a creative work, “Thicker Than Water,” and a critical essay, “Creating a Custom Fit in an Off-the-Rack (Genre) World.”
“Thicker Than Water” is a crime novel that may be positioned in the sub-genre of the thriller, while also incorporating some elements of the detective, mystery, and organised crime sub-genres. It involves an Olympic gold medallist and art gallery owner, Livia Galvin, in murders, kidnapping, and a hunt for stolen art treasures. The narrative begins with scenes in Bogota, Beijing, and the Strait of Magellan, but is set largely in River City (a fictionalised version of Brisbane, Queensland) immediately following the 2008 Beijing Olympics. After being attacked by two would-be assassins in Beijing, Livia returns to River City to discover that her godmother and close Galvin family friend and business colleague, Minnie Babitsky, has apparently been murdered. Livia is drawn into the quest to find Minnie’s killer, beginning a journey of self-discovery and revelations about her family and their criminal connections. The novel is an example of the evolutionary and hybrid nature of the crime genre, and of genres in general, issues which I discuss in the critical essay in relation to investigator-based murder fiction.
In murder fiction, three kinds of characters are usually present: the murder victims, the investigators, and the suspects. It is possible to position these characters along a creative continuum moving from the relatively formulaic to the relatively unique, incorporating two-dimensional, stock characters and more fully-realised human beings. The essay, “Creating a Custom Fit in an Off-the-Rack (Genre) World,” explores some of the ways in which such characters function individually and in relation to each other to effect a ‘same but different’ reading experience, how they contribute to creating a custom fit in the notionally off-the-rack world of genre fiction. One of the questions the essay asks, therefore, is how do these characters operate in murder fiction to achieve a sense of difference in their roles even as they abide by established conventions and demonstrate many traits and behaviours similar to other investigators, victims, and suspects? In short, how do they flout convention while following it? How do they contribute to the genre’s evolution and development?
In the essay, I have coined specific terms for each of the character roles of investigator and murder victim: the proximal investigator and the corpse of convenience, respectively; and a collective term for the suspects, remembering that, initially, everyone is suspect: the family of circumstance. The idea of using generic terms such as these for a diverse range of investigators, victims, and suspects may at first seem to defeat the purpose of emphasising their potential uniqueness. But when seen as part of a continuum or spectrum, I suggest that such terms of classification help to highlight the traits that differentiate these characters from each other. They serve as a means by which both author and reader can remind themselves and be reminded of the increasingly diverse range of characters to be found in contemporary crime fiction, regardless of their ‘special’ skills as crime investigators. Further, when applied to specific texts, they may offer a useful means of considering the sub-genres which murder fiction encompasses from both diachronic and synchronic viewpoints.