Julie Smith Analysis


(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

From the publication of her first mystery, Death Turns a Trick, in 1982, Julie Smith displayed her ability to create suspenseful narratives while entertaining readers with her tongue-in-cheek assessment of the contemporary social scene. In addition to satisfying the intellectual curiosity of those who enjoy a good “ whodunit,” the books featuring Rebecca Schwartz and Paul McDonald exposed the vulnerable underside of the supposedly carefree San Francisco singles lifestyle in the 1980’s.

Beginning with the publication of New Orleans Mourning (1990), the novels set in the Crescent City reflect Smith’s development as a literary artist. Like her contemporary James Lee Burke, she makes exceptionally good use of the south Louisiana setting as a means of communicating insights into human character and social relationships. An admirer of William Faulkner and Tennessee Williams, Smith incorporates elements of southern Gothic in her character portraits while maintaining exceptional command over her intricate and well-developed plots. Through the stories of her two female protagonists from New Orleans, one a member of high society who feels alienated from her peers, the other a young African American, Smith is able to examine issues that remain problematic for American society, specifically sexism and racism. Her finest works demonstrate that it is possible to construct a sophisticated novel of social commentary within the framework of the detective thriller.


(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Grafton, Sue, et al., eds. Writing Mysteries: A Handbook. Cincinnati: Writer’s Digest Books, 2002. Essays by noted mystery writers containing their insights into elements of the genre; includes a contribution by Smith outlining her ideas about the role of background, location, and setting in creating effective mysteries.

Grape, Jan, Dean James, and Ellen Nehr, eds. Deadly Women: The Woman Mystery Reader’s Indispensable Companion. New York: Carroll & Graf, 1998. Essay by Smith on the importance of receiving the Edgar Award in 1991 is included in this collection of material about women’s contributions to detective fiction.

Klein, Kathleen Gregory. Diversity and Detective Fiction. Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1999. Essays by various scholars examine the theme of race and diversity in works by American mystery writers; helps place Smith’s work in a larger social context.

Klein, Kathleen Gregory, ed. Great Women Mystery Writers: Classic to Contemporary. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1994. Contains an essay on the life and works of Smith.

Pepper, Andrew. The Contemporary American Crime Novel: Race, Ethnicity, Gender, Class. Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn, 2000. Discusses Smith’s use of detective fiction as a means of exploring the complex issues of race and gender.

Willett, Ralph. The Naked City: Urban Crime Fiction in the USA. New York: Manchester University Press, 1996. Examines Smith’s work in chapters exploring fiction set in San Francisco and New Orleans; insightful analysis of the social and racial background of New Orleans Mourning.