Teaching Contemporary US Crime Fiction Through the ‘War on Drugs’: A Postgraduate Case Study

  • Andrew PepperEmail author
Part of the Teaching the New English book series (TENEEN)


In this essay, concerning my efforts to teach contemporary crime fiction at postgraduate level, I think about ways in which focusing on under-explored themes and case studies can help students ask new questions about the genre and challenge ossified assumptions about how it functions politically. Specifically, my essay focuses on the challenges of examining crime fiction through the lens of the ‘war on drugs’: how we can use the ‘real’ context of the drug wars, firstly, to ask far-reaching questions about the relationship between the true crime and crime fiction; secondly, to consider what crime fiction can say about this ‘real’ context; and thirdly, to examine the complex formal and political implications at stake in these interventions.


War on drugs Sovereignty True crime Legal-illegal Drug War Capitalism 

Works Cited

  1. Birron, Rebecca E. “It’s a Living: Hit Men in the Mexican Narco War.” PMLA, 2012, 127:4, 820–834.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Björnehed, Emma. “Narco-Terrorism: The Merger of the War on Drugs and the War on Terror.” Global Crime, 2004, 6:3–4, 305–324.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Braham, Persephone. “True-Crime, Crime Fiction, and Journalism in Mexico.” In Globalization and the State in Contemporary Crime Fiction, edited by Andrew Pepper and David Schmid, 119–140. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016. Print.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Cabañas, Miguel. “Narcoculture and the Politics of Representation.” Latin American Perspectives, 2014, 41:2, 3–17.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Gaston, Corrine. “Inside the Drug Wars: A Conversation with ‘Cartel Land’ Maker Matthew Heineman.” International Documentary Association, 2016, (3 February). (accessed 22 November 2016).
  6. Hernández, Anabel. Narcoland: The Mexican Drug Lords and Their Godfathers. Trans. Iain Bruce and Lorna Scott Fox. London: Verso, 2014.Google Scholar
  7. Kraska, Peter B. “Militarization and Policing – Its Relevance to 21st Century Policing.” Policing, 2007, 1:4, 501–513.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Nichols, Bill. Representing Reality: Issues and Concepts in Documentary. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1991.Google Scholar
  9. Pavey, Dawn. Drug War Capitalism. Edinburgh and Oakland: AK Press, 2014.Google Scholar
  10. Pepper, Andrew. Unwilling Executioner: Crime Fiction and the State. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Renov, Michael, ed. Theorizing Documentary. London and New York: Routledge, 1993.Google Scholar
  12. Saviano, Roberto. ZeroZeroZero. Trans. Virginia Jewiss. London: Penguin, 2013.Google Scholar
  13. Seltzer, Mark. True Crime: Observations on Modernity and Violence. London and New York: Routledge, 2016.Google Scholar
  14. Winslow, Don. The Cartel. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2015.Google Scholar
  15. Zavala, Oswaldo. “Imagining the U.S.-Mexico Drug War: The Critical Limits of Narconarratives.” Comparative Literature, 2014, 66:3, 340–360.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Žižek, Slavoj. Violence: Six Sideways Reflections. London: Profile, 2008.Google Scholar


  1. Cartel Land. 2015. Director: Matthew Heineman.Google Scholar
  2. Sicario. 2015. Director: Denis Villeneuve.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Queen’s University BelfastBelfastUK

Personalised recommendations