Begin with a commonplace: crime fiction is often a vehicle for social criticism (The Goodbye Kiss, the novels of David Peace, Dashiel Hammett, etc.). Just as often, perhaps, the genre serves as a means of conserving the status quo (Christie, Spillane, the “policier” as a genre). In both cases the rules of society are transgressed and defended according to a narrative of equilibrium’s rupture and restoration. But what if we invert Todorov’s basic template and consider fictions that dramatize the re-instantiation of social dis-equilibrium? In this scenario, the ‘crime’ is a restoration– that which produces a situation of justice. The capture of the criminal, her punishment, and the crime’s restitution signal the true rupture– a return to the prevailing (dis)order of the social formation (“society”).
For example, the political criminal who acts to subvert or destroy an inegalitarian systym is punished in order to shore up hierarchy. We can see this at work in many cases, from the ‘social bandits’ of the Great Depression (“Pretty Boy Floyd” by Woody Guthrie, the 1967 film Bonnie and Clyde) to the petroleuses of the Paris Commune (a historical event judged a criminal conspiracy by the international press). The crime itself indicates not a lapse in democratic practice but an effort to realize it, represents a situation in which social norms are upended and thus attain their truth. “Crimes” that interrupt reification, undermine colonial rule, and level social distinctions are in fact acts of justice….