Victims or Villains: Jewish Images in Classic English Detective Fiction

By Malcolm J. Turnbull | Go to book overview

Introduction
The phrase "classic English detective story" conjures up immediate and comforting images of an insulated, complacent, even cosy Britain, a neverland in which genteel slayings are perpetrated, promptly investigated and solved, often by gifted, if eccentric, amateurs, against the reassuring backdrop of pre-Blitz London, peaceful rural villages or fully staffed Wodehousian country estates. These images are, of course, only part of a much more diverse and substantial whole; crime fiction in the first half of the century was more wide-ranging in conception and execution than is generally recognised. Fundamental to its existence and perpetuation, however, was the primary goal of entertainment. Escapist fare, conservative in outlook and execution, conforming to standardised patterns, forms and principles, unconcerned, as a rule, about subtleties of characterisation, or the unpleasant realities of sudden and violent death, and dedicated above all to the greater glorification of the literary puzzle and its solution, detective stories and novels enjoyed an enormous readership in the interwar years. 1 As Colin Watson has noted:
Novels of detection flowed from the presses month after month, year after year, in an ever-increasing tide. The appetite for them seemed to be insatiable. Here was no passing fashion; the weekly ration of whodunits came to be one of the staples of life for thousands of middle‐ class families. Housewives brought it home in the shopping basket as conscientiously as they remembered to renew the family supplies of bread and sugar. 2

Having survived "the vicissitudes of literary taste and the sometimes suffocating paraphernalia of scholarship," the more durable specimens, and their descendants, continue to sell in large quantities today. 3 What analysts have come to regard as the Golden Age of English crime and detective fiction—usually cited as the 1920s and 1930s, 4 although a case could be made for

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