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John Fowles’ The Collector falls more appropriately in the subgenre of psychological thriller than in the more conventional crime fiction associated with mystery writers. Fowles’ anti-hero, Fredrick Clegg, is a psychopath whose actions are driven not by pecuniary considerations or by conventional notions of romantic entanglements such as would be expected in the works of authors like James M. Cain, Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett, masters of the trade who employed the notion of the femme fatale as a plot device. In The Collector, the main female character, Miranda Grey is entirely an innocent victim rather than the scheming seductress who populates so much crime fiction. Nor is Fowles’ novel a detective story, in which the protagonist, usually narrating the story, methodically investigates the crime employing the usual police procedurals common to such fiction. Fredrick Clegg is an anti-hero, a Byronic figure whose obsession with Miranda provides the story’s plot and who’s kidnapping and imprisonment of the object of his affection provides for the novel’s more innovative departure from conventional crime fiction. That departure consumes much of the novel’s substance is consists of Miranda’s journal entries in which she describes her situation and contemplates the nature of her existence.
So, all of that being said, what “crime fiction” conventions are present in The Collector? Because Fowles’ novel is a psychological thriller, those conventions consist primarily of the presence in a leading role of an anti-hero, in this case, obviously, Clegg. Clegg kidnaps Miranda and imprisons her in his well-apportioned cellar – a room he has meticulously prepared for this precise purpose. Having successfully captured and transported her to his isolated home, he opens up to her in a way that reaffirms – as if such reaffirmation was necessary – that he is what we commonly refer to as a stalker:
“I don’t mean I told her everything. I told her about working in the Annexe and seeing her and thinking about her and the way she behaved and walked and all she’d meant to me and then having money and knowing she’d never look at me in spite of it and being lonely. When I stopped she was sitting on the bed looking at the carpet. We didn’t speak for what seemed a long time.”
Another component of crime fiction is believability. Crime fiction is not science fiction, although the two genres do cross paths in some novels, most prominently in the works of Philip K. Dick. Conventional crime fiction, however, must be believable, and, unfortunately, Fowles’ novel succeeds in meeting that criteria. Cases of sexual or other forms of obsession leading to kidnapping are all-too common. The 2013 discovery that two Cleveland men had kidnapped and kept imprisoned in their home and repeatedly raped three women for over a decade was just one of many examples of real-life cases similar to that depicted in The Collector. [“Ariel Castro Charged in Kidnapping, Rape of 3 Women,” USA Today, http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/05/08/cleveland-kidnap-captured-chains-ropes/2143885/]
The most conventional of components of crime fiction present in The Collector is that of suspense, and a novel depicting the imprisonment of a woman in a cellar is certainly not going to lack for that element. Miranda’s diary entries, not surprisingly, are replete with passages that reflect the suspense inherent in her situation:
“A new month, and new luck. The tunnel idea keeps nagging at me, but the difficulty till now has been something to dig the concrete out with. Then yesterday as I was doing my prison-exercise in the outer cellar I saw a nail. A big old one, down against the wall in the far corner. I dropped my handkerchief so that I could get a closer look. I couldn’t pick it up, he watches me so closely. And it’s awkward with bound hands. Then today, when I was by the nail (he always sits on the steps up), I said (I did it on purpose) run and get me a cigarette. They’re on the chair by the door. Of course he wouldn’t. He said, what’s the game? I’ll stay here, I won’t move. Why don’t you get them yourself? Because sometimes I like to remember the days when men were nice to me. That’s all. I didn’t think it would work. But it did.”
Fowles builds suspense in passages such as this one by emphasizing the danger of Miranda’s situation, as she contemplates means of escape without being noticed. The Collector, as noted, falls within the crime fiction genre, but not in the more conventional mode of a straightforward detective story or Agatha Christie-like mystery. On the contrary, by dividing his novel into sections to allow for insights into Miranda’s perspective while also emphasizing Clegg’s deeply-rooted psychosis, the author added an element to the genre that separated it from the pack.
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