An Introduction to the Detective Story

An Introduction to the Detective Story

An Introduction to the Detective Story

An Introduction to the Detective Story


This book is a no-apologies introduction to Detective Fiction. It's written in an aggressive, modern English well-suited to a genre which has traditionally broken ground in terms of aggressive writing, contemporary scenarios, and tough dialogue.


Books about detective stories tend to start with apologies, suggesting there is something vaguely wrong with adults who spend their time reading detective stories and something definately akilter in those who spend their energy analyzing and interpreting them. The following book, however, is not an apology or a defense or a "personal" look at detective fiction. It treats and analyzes the detective story as literature. To this end, I have traced the origins of the form, presented the literary and cultural forces that have influenced it, followed its development, and discussed some of the major authors who have contributed to its evolution and popularity. Throughout, I have supplied readers with essential basic information about the writers and movements that I examine; it is not, however, merely a collection of received opinions. I have tried to ask myself new questions about the detective story and its development, and I hope that my answers provide readers with some new insights about the form. I have, of course, omitted mention of a number of important writers and even a greater number of significant books. One cannot cover everything in a field as vast as that of detective fiction. Readers interested in detailed analyses of specific writers can find them by working through the specialized bibliographies listed at the end of the book.

Criticism of the detective story is at a transitional point. Much earlier criticism is either solely directed at fans or at academics. That is, either criticism rests on the obvious and superficial or on highly complex and abstract intellectual structures. Some articles and books, however, take a middle road, hoping to make observations and provide analyses which will appeal to both the lay and the academic reader. I hope that this book falls in with the latter category.

Because this book is intended for a wide variety of readers, I have dispensed with the machinery and some of the stodginess of the typical academic book. Readers will, therefore, find no footnotes, but for those who wish to consult my sources or to find more detailed information, I have appended a section of Further Readings. The dignity of the subject and the demands of the reader have controlled much of what follows, but I also wrote this book to inform and amuse myself. This I do not view as self‐ indulgence, but as an essential ingredient in any book worth writing or reading.

Finally, I wish to extend my thanks to the library staff at Western Maryland College and to my colleagues for assisting in my research and for listening to my enthusiasms. My thanks, too, go to Betsy, Larry, and Paul of Basically Computers for the patience and assistance they offered to a novice word processor. For corrections and suggestions, I owe the mysterious F.M.N. at least a drink, if not a dinner.

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