Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Two Genres

In one sense this blog has a fairly clear focus, the Japanese books that I read. On the other hand, probably some people reading it will want to skip every other post, as I generally alternate between two genres, detective stories and children's literature. Thinking about that reminded me how many detective story writers are also children's writers, in Britain at least. Defining children's writers is a bit tricky. The "young adult" genre is a recent invention. Despite it's name it's actually only meant for (older) children. Before that there were plenty of works which might be shelved in the normal "fiction" department of a library or bookshop, but were often or mostly read by children, Conan Doyle for instance. The detective story category is perhaps a bit ambiguous, too. For instance, if you don't treat the genre borders too strictly, you could include Robert Louis Stevenson for The Wrecker (1892). I glanced throught the Wikipedia categories for British children's and mystery writers to remind myself, and made the little list below, which probably misses quite a few writers. I've given one representative work for each genre and I've put what I thought was the more important one in bold. The more recent writers are hard to judge; but I think it's surprising how many writers have made a significant contribution to each genre. All of the writers with an entry in both categories before 1980 are important enough to expect a mention in any history of the genre. [Update: I'd forgotten T. H. White. I haven't read his Darkness at Pemberly, but most of those who have seem to have a high opinion of it. Update 2: apparently Gladys Mitchell wrote several children's stories. Thanks for the comments and link to the Gladys Mitchell website.]

Author Detective story Children's story
Joan Aiken Trouble with Product X (1966) Arabel's Raven (1972)
Nina Bawden The Odd Flamingo (1954) Carrie's War (1973)
Nicholas Blake (Cecil Day-Lewis) A Question of Proof (1935) The Otterbury Incident (1948)
Michael Bond Monsieur Pamplemousse (1983) A Bear Called Paddington (1958)
Christianna Brand Heads You Lose (1941) Nurse Matilda (1964)
Peter Dickinson The Glass-Sided Ants' Nest (1968) The Weathermonger (1968)
A. A. Milne The Red House Mystery (1922) Winnie the Pooh (1926)
J. K. Rowling (Robert Galbraith) The Cuckoo's Calling (2013) Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (1997)
Jill Paton Walsh The Wyndham Case (1993) The Emperor's Winding Sheet (1974)
T. H. White Darkness at Pemberley (1932) Mistress Masham's Repose (1946)

And what does Japan look like? I don't really know; but my impression is that writers in both genres are rare (or were until recently). One exception is detective story juveniles, which seem to be quite common in Japan. Many authors of normal detective stories seem to write these too. Both EDOGAWA Rampo (江戸川乱歩) and YOKOMIZO Seishi (横溝正史) wrote stories with their series detective aimed at children. That might have the advantage, I guess, that the authors are not just selling a children's book, they're preparing readers of their adult books. Of course it might work the other way: people who read a KINDAICHI Kousuke novel as children might associate the books with childish reading and avoid them as adults. Off the top of my head, I can only think of Tolkien who wrote books with the same characters for children and adults in English.

Apart from juvenile detective fiction, I only know of NIKI Etsuko (仁木悦子), who as well as detective stories, wrote a successful collection of children's stories under the name  大井三重子 (OOI Mieko), 水曜日のクルト (Suiyoubi no curuto, 1961), and MIYABE Miyuki (宮部 みゆき), one of the most successful modern Japanese crime fiction writers. Several of her mysteries have been translated into English, e. g. 火車 (Kasha, All She Was Worth, 1992). So have some of her children's fantasy books, e. g. ブレイブ・ストーリー (Brave Story, 2003). (I haven't read any of her books yet; but I've got a couple in my pile of books waiting to be read, so I'm sure I'll get around to her soon.) There must be more than that, I imagine. What have I missed?


  1. A few other detective fiction writers who dabbled in the juvenile literature field:

    Gladys Mitchell wrote nine children's books. The most commonly found one is Caravan Creek.

    Then there's the Ellery Queen, Jr series with the Queen's houseboy Djuna acting as boy detective. They were not written by the Ellery Queen team, but Manfred Lee had a hand in creating/editing them.

    1. I'd never heard that Gladys Mitchell wrote children's books. The Rising of the Moon seemed to me to show some skill at depicting the mind of a certain kind of child. I might see if I can find one to try some time.

      I'd limited myself to British writers; but America probably has quite a few, e. g. Carl Hiaasen and Elmore Leonard recently.

    2. I came here to mention Gladys Mitchell and The Stone House website lists them alongside her mysteries in the bibliographical section. A book like The Three Fingerprints is described as a "Detective Story for Boys and Girls."

      L. Frank Baum (of Oz fame) wrote a short inverted locked room mystery, "The Suicide of Kiaros," and Christianna Brand (still being praised for Green for Danger and Death of Jezebel) penned three books in the Nurse Matilda series for children. I'm sure there are more.

    3. I missed your mention of Christianna Brand the first time. So that leaves Beam.