'States of Crime', Atlantic Alliance of Universities Crime Genre Research Group

Activity: Talk or presentation typesPresentation


'Red Pinkertonism' and Beyond: Post-Revolutionary Russian Crime Fiction'

This paper will investigate the depiction of the state and state ideologies in Russian crime fiction written after the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution. More specifically, it will consider how the characteristics of the state in such fiction might be seen to change from the immediate post-revolutionary period in the 1920s to the post-1934 Soviet period. The 1920s are an especially interesting period in the history of Russian crime fiction thanks to the success of one particular genre: ‘Red Pinkertonism’. The series of American pot-boilers featuring the private eye, Nat Pinkerton, had enjoyed enormous popularity in translation in Russia up until the start of World War I. In the 1920s, many authors began to tap into this pre-war taste for adventure and detection and write their own original, apparently ideologically-charged versions of the Western genre, hence ‘Red Pinkertonism’. Practitioners of this genre included a number of talented writers who would subsequently go on to establish themselves as leading figures in Soviet literature: Marietta Shaginyan, Iakov Okunev, Valentin Kataev and Veniamin Kaverin. Examples of ‘Red Pinkertonism’ might initially appear to unambiguously promote state ideology: the heroes (playing the role of detectives) are workers serving the revolution pitted against the industrialist-capitalist enemies of the regime who represent the evil West. Nevertheless, attitudes to the state and its ideologies are problematized in this genre by its use of parody, a device it also employs to interrogate the very nature of detective fiction. The complex relationship between the state and crime in ‘Red Pinkertonism’ will then be set against later examples of Soviet crime fiction taken from the 1950s and 1960s. In novels by writers such as Lev Samoilov and Boris Skorbin, and Arkadii Adamov, the detectives act as obedient organs of the state, and yet here too the genre appears to acknowledge the existence of an ideological pluralism which is often overlooked from a later historical perspective.
Period17 Jun 201118 Jun 2011
Event title'States of Crime', Atlantic Alliance of Universities Crime Genre Research Group
Event typeConference
LocationBelfast, United KingdomShow on map