Victims or Villains: Jewish Images in Classic English Detective Fiction

By Malcolm J. Turnbull | Go to book overview

4
Lingering Stereotypes
and Shifting Attitudes
1933-1945

A growing revisionism was apparent in the depiction of Jews in crime and detective fiction from the early 1930s, specifically from 1933. Clearly a number of factors came into play, among them the maturing of the genre. As the staple detective novel evolved from the Golden Age puzzle into the more complex book-length study of the criminal mind, it seems likely that writers, and some readers, increasingly rejected the use of stock, one-dimensional character-types. In laying down "the rules of the game" in 1929, Ronald Knox warned writers against the use of such hackneyed, outmoded plot devices as the sinister Chinaman or the hitherto undiscovered poison; the Oath of the Detection Club, founded by Cox and Sayers circa 1928, similarly called upon candidates to "observe a seemly moderation" in employing gangs, conspiracies, Chinamen or super-criminals. 1 A delightfully potent Superintendent Wilson short story by G.D.H. and Margaret Cole, "A Lesson in Crime," suggests that by that time (1933), the more discerning public may have become saturated with Protocols-inspired myths of Jewish conspiracy. Mystery writer Joseph Newton is murdered in a railway carriage by a disgruntled reader who berates the former for not even troubling to make his stories plausible. Among the shortcomings of Newton's latest crime novel, The Big Noise: "you introduced three gangs, a mysterious Chinaman, an unknown poison that leaves no trace, and a secret society of international Jews high up in the political world" (A Lesson in Crime and Other Stories, 1933). 2

Of far greater significance than any desire to transcend cliché, however, was the impact of international events (most

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