Profiling the female crime writer : Margie Orford and questions of (gendered) genre.
Martin, Caitlin Lisa.
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Crime fiction, despite its long chronicled history, has only recently become prevalent as ‘genre fiction’ in South Africa. Despite being an historically disparaged form, crime fiction offers a platform to engage critically with elements of contemporary society. This thesis focuses in particular on the ‘Clare Hart’ series of krimi novels written by Margie Orford, considering some of the ways in which the author mediates the conventions of the genre. (I base my discussion on Like Clockwork , Blood Rose , Daddy’s Girl  and Gallows Hill , with brief remarks, in my conclusion, on the recently-published fifth novel, Water Music .) I argue that Orford seeks to exploit the thrills and tensions typically associated with the genre even as, working through a gender lens, she attempts to reconfigure genre conventions and constraints in order to tackle ethical, social, economic and political challenges in South and southern Africa, especially as they impact upon women, children, and marginalised groups of people. My study examines how Orford undertakes a possible conscientising of her readership, in a genre which is ostensibly associated with easy, entertaining pleasures. In this endeavour, of particular importance is Orford’s characterisation of her protagonist, Clare Hart, an investigative journalist-cum-profiler whom she uses to turn a “defiant observer’s eye” (Orford 2010: 187) on the naturalised violence against women and children in the country, and to up-end some of the entrenched masculinist orientations of both thriller and hard-boiled traditions. Additionally, the thesis addresses the regional situation of Orford’s novels, the expressly southern African environment. Using selected theories of space and place, I argue that while setting is often important to literary fiction, for the crime thriller, setting is much more complexly spatialised, since it may assist in carrying an author’s contextualised criticism of received spatial hierarchies as they relate (especially) to gender and race. Additionally, I point out that Orford’s novels offer her the opportunity to situate narrative in relation to troubled regional histories and geographies, and to move beyond the immediate southern African locality to map the mass-mediated, global vectors which constitute the present, and to situate history in relation to contentious, provocative contemporary concerns such as “organized crime, collapsing state institutions, [and] street gangsters” (Orford 2010: 184). In doing so, I find, Orford offers psychological insight into the complex and highly unsettled nature of the protracted political transition which has marked South Africa’s shift from apartheid to democracy.