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