Popular and Feminist: Swati Kaushal’s Detective Fiction

Conceptualizing a paper on popular fiction, especially detective fiction, is a daunting task. As Ken Gelder1 has pointed out, popular fiction is usually considered as “capitalism’s most perfect literary form” (Gelder, 35) and therefore, is generally perceived as an “industrial” product, manufactured for unthinking mass consumption, as against literary works which, it is believed, usually contest dominant ideologies including capitalism and patriarchy. I begin my paper by locating Kaushal’s novels: Drop Dead (2012) and Lethal Spice (2014) generically and then go on to explore whether her feminist agenda is compatible with the literary form she chooses. Negotiating the perceived opposition between literary forms and popular forms, I attempt to show the ways in which her novels engage with contemporary concerns and present a woman police officer as an investigator who exemplifies Kaushal’s ideal of “stories about strong women written from a woman’s point of view2 .

From the 1920s and 1930s, women have been associated with authoring and reading mystery stories and detective fiction in Britain, thus determining the evolution of its form(s).From Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers to Amanda Cross to Ruth Rendells’s and P.D. James’s more recent contributions , detective fiction has been shaped to a great extent by women writers. The genre is equally popular among women readers and writers in the USA, most of Europe, Canada and Australia. It spans many styles including the comic escapist fiction of Janet Evanovich, the psychic detective of Martha C. Lawrence, and police procedurals or police detective fiction / thriller which has been a very popular genre with women readers and writers abroad, but is still picking up pace in urban India. Women writers have presented both male as well as female detectives in different series such as P.D.James’s detective protagonists Commander Adam Dalgliesh and Cordelia Grey (who appears less frequently than Dalgliesh)

Namita Sethi

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