Theory and Practice of Classic Detective Fiction

By Jerome H. Delamater; Ruth Prigozy | Go to book overview
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Theoretical Approaches to the Genre

In recent years the detective genre has been the site of every form of critical inquiry and theoretical postulation. Although there may still be those who disdain the mystery novel and its heirs, specialists in modern literature, film, and popular culture have clearly found the detective story a congenial object of study. Exploring the nature of the genre, its audience, and its relationship to other literary forms has become almost as much of a cottage industry as the writing of detective fiction itself. The essays in this first section give a theoretical overview of important issues about the modern detective and provide a background for subsequent essays. Fundamental to any discussion of the topic is an understanding of the classic detective, and each of these essays attempts an explanation of aspects of the classic detective to define how the genre has evolved.

In the first essay, John G. Cawelti traces the history and development of the detective story as it relates to the “canon” of English and American literature. He explores the new directions literary criticism has taken in the past decade and indicates the extent to which the detective story plot has served as a repository of important social and cultural attitudes. His essay both describes the past and points to the future of the genre.

The rise of the detective novel closely parallels the development of police forces as we know them and the reliance on scientific techniques that we deem basic to modern life. This truism is explored in Timothy Boyd and Carolyn Higbie's “Shamus-a-um,” in which their play on the word classical centers on those recent detective novels about figures from ancient Greece and Rome who embody the “classic” characteristics of the ratiocinative or the hard-boiled schools. Using three books, one each by Margaret Doody, John Maddox Roberts, and Lindsey Davis, Boyd, and Higbie raise larger questions about historical fiction as they follow classical detectives who investigate crimes that

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