The Female Investigator in Literature, Film and Popular Culture

By Hilton, Laura | Journal of American Culture (Malden, MA), June 2008 | Go to article overview

The Female Investigator in Literature, Film and Popular Culture


Hilton, Laura, Journal of American Culture (Malden, MA)


The Female Investigator in Literature, Film and Popular Culture Lisa M. Dresner. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2007.

Lisa Dresner, who teaches literature at Hofstra University, has published on gender and the gothic. In The Female Investigator, she draws on her prior research to analyse the role of the female investigator within four key genres: the gothic novel, the lesbian detective novel, television and film. A case study of Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca and its adaptations forms the final chapter, neatly drawing together the arguments established in preceding chapters. Unfortunately, no images feature in this book-photographs would be a welcome addition-but the language and tone is well-suited to the subject area, easily engaging the reader while remaining fully referenced and well structured.

A thoroughly researched introduction shows that Dresner is aware of previous research in her area, which she uses as a foundation for her own work. Reference is made to academic criticism alongside magazines, including Cosmopolitan and TV Guide, and fan-"criticism," such as the Internet newsgroup alt.tv.x-files. The varied subject matter here demands equally wide-ranging research, and in this Dresner does not disappoint.

However, perhaps her subject matter is a little too varied. Despite the fact that Dresner avoids discussing the large oeuvre of the popular detective novel due to her desire to focus on more "understudied genres" (7), the selection of texts, which includes literature, television and film, is nothing short of vast. While this provides the reader with a thorough introduction to these "understudied genres," at times the analysis strays dangerously close to mere plot synopsis. In comparison, the theoretical sections, including discussion of the texts in relation to socio-cultural context (70) and psychoanalysis (109), are original and critically rewarding to read. The chapter on Rebecca provides an opportunity for an in-depth case study, but even here Dresner struggles to squeeze in all she has to say, with one example showing six sub-sections hurried through in just two pages (168-69). …

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