Theory and Practice of Classic Detective Fiction

Theory and Practice of Classic Detective Fiction

Theory and Practice of Classic Detective Fiction

Theory and Practice of Classic Detective Fiction


Combining theoretical and practical approaches, this collection of essays explores classic detective fiction from a variety of contemporary viewpoints. Among the diverse perspectives are those which interrogate the way the genre reflects important social and cultural attitudes, contributes to a reader's ability to adapt to the challenges of daily life, and provides alternate takes on the role of the detective as an investigator and arbiter of truth.

Part I looks at the nature of and the audience for detective fiction, as well as at the genre as a literary form. This section includes an inquiry into the role of the detective; an application of object-relations psychology to the genre; and analyses of recent literary criticism positing that traditional detective fiction contained the seeds of its own subversion. Part II applies a variety of theoretical positions to Agatha Christie and her heirs in the British ratiocinative tradition. A concluding essay positions the genre within the middle-class traditions of the novel since its inception in the eighteenth century. Of interest to all scholars and students of detective fiction and British popular culture.


The universally popular detective has assumed great cultural significance as modern civilization has become increasingly complex. And the detective genre seems to recreate itself every decade, finding in contemporary life the sources of inspiration that attract millions of readers worldwide. As P. D. James noted, “Detective stories help reassure us in the belief that the universe, underneath it all, is rational. They're small celebrations of order and reason in an increasingly disordered world” (Newsweek October 20, 1986). James's remark is particularly true of many of the earliest examples of the genre—if not of Poe's fiction with its dark, almost modernist undercurrent, then at least of the works by those eminent early practitioners of the art: Conan Doyle, Chesterton, Sayers, and, of course, the most widely read of all, Agatha Christie.

In this book, we are offering a variety of new and innovative approaches to classic detective fiction. We have organized the essays by first offering a theoretical approach to the genre, then tracing the genre back to Agatha Christie (whose centenary was the impetus for these essays) and “traditional” British detective fiction. All of these essays look at well-known and revered works from a fresh perspective, with the result that we can appreciate the complexity and dexterity involved in their creation.

Jerome H. Delamater

Ruth Prigozy . . .

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