Critical essays on detective fiction


Queen of Crime

Although I have used this method with some of my novels, I have more commonly chosen to defer the crime and begin by establishing the setting and by introducing my readers to the victim, the murderer, the suspects, and the life of the community in which the murder will take place. This has the advantage that the setting can be described with more leisure than is practicable once the action is under way, and that many of the facts about the suspects and their possible motives are known and do not have to be revealed at length during the course of the investigation.

Deferring the actual murder, apart from the build-up of tension, also ensures that the reader is in possession of more information than is the detective when he arrives at the scene. It is an inviolable rule that the detective should never know more than the reader, but there is no injunction against the reader knowing more than the detective-including, of course, when a particular suspect is lying.

In an introduction to an anthology of short stories published in , Dorothy L. Sayers confronted this difficulty, which still challenges detective novelists today. Miss Sayers did nothing in her life by halves. Having decided to earn some much-needed money by writing detective fiction, she applied her mind to the history, technique and possibilities of the genre.

Being highly intelligent, opinionated and combative, she had no hesitation in giving other people the advantage of her views.

Not surprisingly, it is Sayers to whom we frequently look for an expert view on the problems and challenges of writing detective fiction in the Golden Age. She wrote:. It does not-and by hypothesis never can-attain the loftiest level of literary achievement. Though it deals with the most desperate effects of rage, jealousy and revenge, it rarely touches the heights and depths of human passion. It presents us only with a fait accompli and looks upon death and mutilation with a dispassionate eye. The majority of the Golden Age novels are at present out of print, but the names of the most popular still resonate; their crumbling paperbacks can still be seen on the racks of secondhand bookstores or in private libraries where their owners are reluctant finally to dispose of old friends who have given so much half-remembered pleasure.

Those writers who are still read have provided something more than an exciting and original plot: distinction in the writing, a vivid sense of place, a memorable and compelling hero and-most important of all-the ability to draw the reader into their highly individual world. The omni-talented amateur with apparently nothing to do with his time but solve murders which interest him has had his day, partly because his rich and privileged lifestyle became less admirable, and his deferential acceptance by the police less credible, in an age when men were expected to work.

Increasingly the private eye had a profession, or occasionally some connection with the police. Doctors were popular and were usually provided with some idiosyncratic hobby or habit, an interest for which they had plenty of time since we rarely saw them with a patient. Among the most popular was H.

Reggie is a weighty character in both senses of the word, a gourmet, the husband of an exceptionally beautiful wife and a doughty defender of the weak and vulnerable, particularly children. Occasionally his concern as a social reformer in these fields tended to override the detective element. Thereafter Miss Mitchell published a book a year, sometimes two, until Dame Beatrice was a true original: elderly, bizarre in dress and appearance, with the eyes of a crocodile.

Professionally she was highly regarded, despite the fact that her methods seemed more intuitive than scientific, and although we are told she was consultant to the Home Office it is not clear whether this entailed treating any home secretary whose peculiarities were causing concern, or involving herself with convicted criminals, which seems equally unlikely.

In either case she had plenty of time to be driven round the country in style by George, her chauffeur, and to involve herself in such interests as Roman ruins, the occult, ancient Greek mysticism and the Loch Ness Monster. There are frequent allusions to her mysterious past-a distant ancestor was apparently a witch-and she was much given to conclusions which seem to owe more to her esoteric knowledge than to logical deduction. Like Reggie Fortune, she had a maverick attitude toward authority.

Three writers whose books have deservedly lasted beyond the Golden Age and can still be found in print are Edmund Crispin, Cyril Hare and Josephine Tey Each had a profession apart from writing, and each produced one book which has generally proved the favourite among their work. Edmund Crispin, following his time at St. Like many other detective writers, he made excellent use of his personal experience, both of Oxford and of his career as a musician. We learn nothing of the sex of these children and are only surprised that Professor Fen has found the time and energy to father them.

He seems to be rarely inconvenienced by academic duties and in one book, Buried for Pleasure , he becomes a parliamentary candidate, narrowly escaping what for him would have been the inconvenience of being elected. Reasonably, he summons the police, but they arrive to find no toyshop and no corpse. Most readers at some point in the story will laugh aloud. Crispin is a farceur, and the ability successfully to combine this less-than-subtle humour with murder is very rare in detective fiction.

Detective Fiction

One modern writer who comes to mind is Simon Brett, whose hero-if the word can be regarded as appropriate-Charles Paris is an unsuccessful and hard-drinking actor separated from his wife. Like Edmund Crispin, Simon Brett makes use of his own experience-in his case as a playwright for radio and television-and, like Crispin, he can combine humour with a credible mystery solved by an original and believable private eye.

Cyril Hare was a barrister who became a county court judge; he took his writing name from his London home, Cyril Mansions in Battersea, and his chambers in Hare Court. Like Edmund Crispin, he made effective use of his professional experience and expertise, creating in his hero, Francis Pettigrew, a humane, intelligent but not particularly successful barrister who, unlike Professor Fen, is a reluctant rather than avid amateur detective.

Like Crispin he has a felicitous style, and his humour, although less laughter-provoking, has wit and subtlety. His best-known book-and, I would argue, by far the most successful-is Tragedy at Law , published in This novel, which is happily in print, is also something of a period piece, since we the readers move with the Honourable Sir William Hereward Barber, a judge of the High Court of Justice, as he travels round the towns of the South West Circuit. This perambulation in great state of an assize judge has now been abolished with the creation of the Crown Court; as the book is set in the early days of the Second World War, we have the interest both of fairly recent history and of a now dead tradition.

The plot is well worked out, credible and, as with the majority of his books, rests on the provisions of the law. The book opens with a loud complaint by the judge that, because of the economies of war, his appearance is not being celebrated as it should be with a flourish of trumpets. The man, the time and the place are immediately set in an opening paragraph which is as arresting as if the trumpets had indeed sounded.

Josephine Tey, the pseudonym of the Scottish writer Elizabeth Mackintosh , was better known in her lifetime for her play Richard of Bordeaux than she was for her detective fiction. Her detective is Inspector Alan Grant, who is very much in the gentlemanly mould, notable for his intuition, intelligence and Scottish tenacity. He first appeared in The Man in the Queue and was still on the job when, in , Tey published her eighth and last crime novel, The Singing Sands.

But with the two novels which many readers regard as among her best, Brat Farrar and The Franchise Affair , she moved further from the conventional plot of the detective story and with such success that she might not now be regarded as a detective novelist had she not created Inspector Grant. Novelists who prefer not to be so designated should beware of introducing a serial detective.


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Brat Farrar is a mystery of identity set on the estate and the riding stables of Latchetts on the south coast. If Patrick Ashby, heir to the property, has really committed suicide, who is the mysterious young man calling himself Brat Farrar who returns to claim the family inheritance, who not only looks like Patrick but is familiar with details of the family history? We, the readers, know that he is an impostor, although we quickly come to sympathise with him. This, then, is a mystery of identification, common in English fiction, and the fact that Brat Farrar is also a murder mystery only becomes apparent late in the novel.

The story conforms more closely to the conventional mystery, although there is no murder. A local solicitor, who is consulted by the women, is convinced of their innocence and sets out to prove it. The mystery is, of course, centred on the girl. If her story is false from start to finish, how did she obtain the facts which enabled her to lie so convincingly? An uncomplicated structure and the first-person narrative-the tale is told by the solicitor-engage the reader both with the characters, who are exceptionally well drawn, and with the social and class prejudices of the smalltown community-prejudices which the author to some extent undoubtedly shared.

Josephine Tey not only has retained her hold on readers of detective fiction, but is now being resurrected in the novels of Nicola Upson, who sets her mysteries in the years between the wars and peoples them with real-life characters of the time, Josephine Tey being her serial protagonist. Famous detectives have from time to time been resurrected on film or in print-Jill Paton Walsh is continuing the Wimsey saga-but Nicola Upson is the first writer to choose a previous real-life crime novelist as an ongoing character.

The great majority of detectives in the Golden Age were men-and, indeed, if they were professional police officers, had to be male, since women at that time had a very limited role in policing. In general women characters who dabbled in detection were either sidekicks or cheerful crusaders-in-arms to the dominant male hero, serving as either a Watson or a love interest, or both.

But as time progressed it was thought necessary that even the women who played a subsidiary part in the triumphs of the male hero should have some kind of job in their own right rather than sit at home ministering to the needs of their spouse. It is interesting that neither Harriet Vane nor Georgia Cavendish is described as beautiful although both, particularly Georgia, are sexually attractive, and so of course is Lady Amanda. Although women detectives play little part in the novels of the Golden Age, somewhat surprisingly they appeared very early in the history of crime writing.

To discuss their exploits and examine their significance to the genre requires a whole book-which has, indeed, been written by Patricia Craig and Mary Cadogan in their fascinating The Lady Investigates I am particularly sorry not to have encountered Lady Molly of Scotland Yard, the creation of Baroness Orczy, more famous for the Scarlet Pimpernel stories. The relationship between them is one of sickening sentimentality.

Not surprisingly, given the talents of many of the writers, the Golden Age detective stories were competently and sometimes very well written, and some of the best will endure.

Nevertheless, subtlety of characterisation, a setting which came alive for the reader and credibility of motive were often subjugated, particularly in the humdrums, to the demand to provide an intriguing and mysterious plot. Writers vied with each other in their search for an original method of murder and for clues of increasing ingenuity and complexity. Webster has written that death has ten thousand doors to let out life, and it seems that most of them have at one time or another been used. Unfortunate victims were despatched by licking poisoned stamps, being battered to death by church bells, stunned by a falling pot, stabbed with an icicle, poisoned by cat claws and not infrequently found dead in locked and barred rooms with looks of appalling terror on their faces.

This world was summed up by William Trevor, the Anglo-Irish novelist and short story writer, when he spoke of reading detective stories as a child in his acceptance speech on winning a literary award in All over England, it seemed to me, bodies were being discovered by housemaids in libraries. Village poison pens were tirelessly at work. There was murder in Mayfair, on trains, in airships, in Palm Court lounges, between the acts. Golfers stumbled over corpses on fairways. Chief Constables awoke to them in their gardens. These novels are, of course, paradoxical.

They deal with violent death and violent emotions, but they are novels of escape. We are required to feel no real pity for the victim, no empathy for the murderer, no sympathy for the falsely accused. Whatever our secret terrors, we are not the body on the library floor. All the mysteries will be explained, all the problems solved, and peace and order will return to that mythical village which, despite its above-average homicide rate, never really loses its tranquillity or its innocence.

Rereading the Golden Age novels with their confident morality, their lack of any empathy with the murderer and the popularity of their rural settings, readers can still enter nostalgically this settled and comfortable world. I was everything the well-dressed private detective ought to be. I was calling on four million dollars. WHILE THE well-born and impeccably correct detectives of the Golden Age were courteously interviewing their suspects in the drawing rooms of country houses, the studies of rural clergymen and the rooms of Oxford academics, across the Atlantic crime writers were finding their material and inspiration in a very different society and writing about it in prose that was colloquial, vivid and memorable.

Although this book is primarily about British detective novelists, the commonly described hard-boiled school of American fiction, rooted in a different continent and in a different literary tradition, has made such an important contribution to crime writing that to ignore its achievements would be seriously misleading. The two most famous innovators, Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, have had a lasting influence beyond the crime genre, both in their own country and abroad.

No writer, whatever form his fiction takes, can distance himself entirely from the country, civilisation and century of which he is a part. Sayers could reasonably feel that these writers were living not only on different continents but in different centuries. So what England were these predominantly middle-class, well-educated novelists and their devoted readers portraying, what traditions, beliefs and prejudices were the purveyors of popular literature consciously or unconsciously reflecting?

As I was born in it was an England I knew, a cohesive world, overwhelmingly white and united by a common belief in a religious and moral code based on the Judeo-Christian inheritance-even if this belief was not invariably reflected in practice-and buttressed by social and political institutions which, although they might be criticised, attracted general allegiance, and were accepted as necessary to the well-being of the state: the monarchy, the Empire, the Church, the criminal justice system, the City, the ancient universities.

It was an ordered society in which virtue was regarded as normal, crime an aberration, and in which there was small sympathy for the criminal; it was generally accepted that murderers, when convicted, would hang-although Agatha Christie, arch-purveyor of cosy reassurance, is careful not to emphasise this disagreeable fact or allow the dark shadow of the public hangman to fall upon her essentially comfortable pages. The death penalty is mentioned by Margery Allingham, and Dorothy L. It was therefore possible to live in a country town or in a village and feel almost entirely secure.

We can read an Agatha Christie novel set in what seems a mythical village, in which the inhabitants are happily reconciled to their allotted rank and station, and we feel that this is an exaggerated, romanticised or idealised world. Harriet is speaking of her husband, Lord Peter:. She understood now why it was that, with all his masking attitudes… he yet carried about with him that permanent atmosphere of security. He belonged to an ordered society and this was it. More than any of the friends in her own world he spoke the familiar language of her childhood. But it was an age of underlying anxiety.

Before the institution of the welfare state, the dread of unemployment, of sickness, of economic failure was very real, and the growing power of the fascist dictators abroad threatened the possibility of a further war before the country had recovered from the appalling carnage, social upheaval and personal tragedies of the conflict.

Sayers and Michael Innes, are so profound that it seems stretching a definition to describe both groups under the same category. If the British detective story is concerned with bringing order out of disorder, a genre of reconciliation and social healing, restoring the mythical village of Mayhem Parva to prelapsarian tranquillity, in the United States Hammett and Chandler were depicting and exploring the great social upheavals of the s-lawlessness, prohibition, corruption, the power and violence of notorious gangsters who were close to becoming folk heroes, the cycle of boom and depression-and creating detectives who were inured to this world and could confront it on their own terms.

Essentials

Dashiell Hammett had a tough and under privileged youth working on the railway, then as a Pinkerton detective, and as a soldier in the First World War. He was discharged as tubercular, married his hospital nurse and had two children, supporting his family by writing short stories for the pulp magazines that were extremely popular during the s. The editors demanded violent action, vividly portrayed characters and a prose style ruthlessly pruned of all inessentials; all this Hammett provided.

Hammett knew from traumatic personal experience how precarious is the moral tightrope which the private investigator daily walks in his battle with the criminal. There is nothing subtle about him and little we expect to know-except his age, thirty-five, that he is short and fat, and that his only loyalty is to the Continental Detective Agency and his job. But there is an honesty and directness about this personal code, limited as it may be.

And liking work makes you want to do it as well as you can. The Op tells his own story, but flatly, without explanations, excuses or embellishments. He is as ruthless as the world in which he operates, a violent gun-carrying dispenser of the only justice he recognises. Short and fat he may be, but in Red Harvest he takes on the combined strength of the police, corrupt politicians and gangsters to cleanse the city of Personville, meeting violence with violence.

He is naturally solitary, and how could he be otherwise with such a job in a corrupt and lawless world? I felt queer about it. He is classless, younger and more physically attractive than the Op, but there is a cruelty in his ruthlessness and he is the more immoral of the two, capable of falling in love with a woman but never putting love above the demands of the job.

There he met the playwright Lillian Hellman and began a love affair which lasted until his death. After his release his books were proscribed, and during his final ten years he lived on the charity of others. He would not be the only writer whose talent was destroyed by money, self-indulgence and the egregious temptations of fame, but perhaps for him the temptations were the more irresistible because of the penury and struggles of those early years.

Might Hammett have written another novel as good as The Maltese Falcon if he had resisted that invitation to move to Hollywood? I think it doubtful. It may be that by then he had said all he wanted to and that his talent was exhausted. Nevertheless, his achievement remains remarkable. In a writing career of little more than a decade he raised a commonly despised genre into writing which had a valid claim to be taken seriously as literature.

He showed crime writers that what is important goes beyond an ingenious plot, mystery and suspense. The early life of Raymond Chandler, born in , was markedly different from that of Hammett. He was educated in England at Dulwich College and returned to the United States in , where he had a successful business career before retiring in to devote himself to writing.

I set out to prove them wrong. And that was what, superbly, Chandler provided. In this he reminds me of a very different writer but one who was also brilliant at writing dialogue, Evelyn Waugh. The hard-boiled detectives are not introspective; it is through action and dialogue that their story is told. He is discriminating about the kind of work he will accept, never takes tainted money or betrays a friend, and is totally loyal even to undeserving clients.

More personally vulnerable than Spade, he is a more reluctant private eye, troubled and repelled by the corrupt and heartless world in which he earns his living and uncomfortably sensitive to the suffering of its victims. In the words of a character in The Long Goodbye ,. Marlowe tells his story in the first person in prose that is terse but richly descriptive and larded with wisecracks.

The big man would probably take it away from me and eat it. The story may at times be incoherent but the writing never disappoints in what Chandler cared most about, the creation of emotion through dialogue and description. Both Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe are licensed investigators and, unlike the British amateur detectives, have to some extent a recognised function and authority.

But their attitude to the police is ambivalent, ranging from a wary and reluctant co-operation to open enmity. The police are seen by both as brutal and corrupt. In a famous passage from his critical essay The Simple Art of Murder , Chandler describes his detective in words which were more appropriate to a work of high romance:.

In everything that can be called art there is a quality of redemption… But down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. The detective in this kind of story must be such a man. He is the hero, he is everything… He must be the best man in his world and a good enough man for any world. This is surely too romantic and unrealistic a view to be credible.

The Op and Spade generally preserve their emotions as inviolate as the secrets they uncover, and only Marlowe is susceptible to love. Here are no brave and cheerful comrades-in-arms, no devoted non-interfering wives at home with their knitting, no successful professional women with interesting lives of their own, no carefully crafted figures of wish-fulfilment. The women in the hard-boiler are sexually alluring temptresses seen by the hero as inimical both to their masculine code and to the success of the job.

They may not all get shot in the leg, but if guilty they are likely to be handed over to the police without compunction. We have, of course, always had the most notable detective stories of America and Canada available in this country, including the hard-boiled school. I came to the American hard-boiled school in the s through the work of Ross Macdonald, the pseudonym of Kenneth Millar , and he remains my favourite of the triumvirate of the best-known hard-boiled writers.

His childhood was a tragic odyssey of poverty and rejection. His mother, deserted by her husband when Macdonald was three, dragged him round Canada depending on the charity of relatives, and Macdonald narrowly escaped the appalling fate of being consigned to an orphanage. His detective, Lew Archer, is in the tradition of Philip Marlowe and, like Marlowe, he casts a critical eye on society, concerned particularly with the searing damage to the human spirit caused by the ruthlessness, greed and corruption of big business. Less romantic than Chandler, his style has the vigour and imaginative richness of a man confident of his mastery of epithets and, particularly in his later novels, he attains a standard which places him first among those novelists who raised the genre from its roots in pulp fiction to serious literature.

For me the most remarkable of the moderns is Sara Paretsky When she created her private eye, V. Warshawski, it was in conscious emulation of the myth of the solitary private eye and his lone campaign against the corruption of the powerful, but her Polish-American heroine has a humility, a humanity and a need for human relationships which the male hard-boilers lack.

Paretsky creates a powerful vision of the Chicago where V. Warshawski grew up and where she operates as a courageous, sexually liberated female investigator. Through her heroine and in her private life of speaking and journalism, Paretsky conducts her campaign against injustice and, in particular, for the right of women to control their lives and their sexuality.

No other female crime writer has so powerfully and effectively combined a well-crafted detective story with the novel of social realism and protest. And here, too, we see the influence of Raymond Chandler. These four highly successful women are among the relatively few whose books are still in print and read today, a longevity undoubtedly sustained, in the case of Christie and Sayers, by television.

All four consolidated and affirmed the structure and conventions of the classical detective story, inventing detectives who have entered into the mythology of the genre. Three of the women aspired to, and achieved, a standard of writing and characterisation which helped to raise the reputation of the detective story from a harmless but predictable literary diversion into a popular form that could be taken as seriously as a well-written mainstream novel. For me they have an additional interest. To read the detective novels of these four women is to learn more about the England in which they lived and worked than most popular social histories can provide, and in particular about the status of women in the years between the wars.

For this reason, if no other, they should have a chapter to themselves. As writing it is not distinguished, but as story it is superb. Writers who explore the phenomenon not uncommonly begin with the arithmetic of her achievements: outsold only by the Bible and Shakespeare, translated into over one hundred foreign languages, author of the longest-running play ever seen on the London stage and, in addition, recipient of awards that success usually affords only to the highest literary talent-a Dame of the British Empire and an honorary degree of Doctor of Literature from Oxford University.

The perennial question remains, how did this gently reared, essentially Edwardian lady do it? Although both her best-known detectives, Poirot and Miss Marple, occasionally investigated murder overseas, her natural world as perceived by her readers is a romanticised cosy English village rooted in nostalgia, with its ordered hierarchy: the wealthy squire often with a new young wife of mysterious antecedence , the retired irascible colonel, the village doctor and the district nurse, the chemist useful for the purchase of poison , the gossiping spinsters behind their lace curtains, the parson in his vicarage, all moving predictably in their social hierarchy like pieces on a chessboard.

Her style is neither original nor elegant but it is workmanlike. It does what is required of it. She employs no great psychological subtlety in her characterisation; her villains and suspects are drawn in broad and clear outlines and, perhaps because of this, they have a universality which readers worldwide can instantly recognise and feel at home with.

Detective, Mystery, and Suspense Fiction | The New York Public Library

Above all she is a literary conjuror who places her pasteboard characters face downwards and shuffles them with practised cunning. Game after game we are confident that this time we will turn up the card with the face of the true murderer, and time after time she defeats us. And with a Christie mystery no suspect can safely be eliminated, even the narrator of the story. Most mystery writers jib, as do I, at killing the very young, but Agatha Christie is tough, as ready to murder a child, admittedly a precocious unappealing one, as she is to despatch a blackmailer.

With Mrs. Christie, as with real life, the only certainty is death.

Perhaps her greatest strength was that she never overstepped the limits of her talent. She knew precisely what she could do and she did it well. For over fifty years this shy and conventional woman produced murder mysteries of extraordinarily imaginative duplicity. With her immense output the quality is inevitably uneven-some of the later books in particular show a sad falling-off-but at her best the ingenuity is dazzling. Her prime skill as a storyteller is the talent to deceive, and it is possible to identify some of the tricks, often verbal, by which she gently seduces us into self-deception.

In time we almost match the cunning of the author. She is particularly fond of a version of the eternal triangle in which a couple, apparently happily engaged or married, are menaced by a third person, sometimes predatory and rich. When the victim is murdered there is little mystery about the chief suspect. Only at the end of the book does Miss Christie turn the triangle round and we recognise that it was that way up all the time. And her clues are brilliantly designed to confuse. The butler goes over to peer closely at a calendar. She has planted in our mind the suspicion that a crucial clue relates to dates and times, but the clue is, in fact, that the butler is shortsighted.

Both the trickery and the final solution are invariably more ingenious than believable. The books are mild intellectual puzzles, not credible blueprints for real murder. In Death on the Nile , for example, the murderer is required to dash round the deck of a crowded river-steamer, acting with split-second precision and depending on not being observed either by passengers or by crew. In another book we are told that the murderer unscrews the digits of a number on the door of a hostel room, so luring the victim to the wrong room. In real life we never go unerringly to the room we want; we identify it by the floor and by the numbers on adjoining doors.

In Dumb Witness the clue is that a brooch made of initials is glimpsed in a mirror at night. But the brooch is worn by a woman in a dressing-gown-the last garment on which a heavy brooch would normally be pinned. But to the Christie aficionado this is mere quibbling. And indeed it does seem ungracious to point out inconsistencies or incredulities in books which are primarily intended to entertain-a far from ignoble aim-and in which the reader is in general treated fairly and falls more often than not into a pit of his own devising.

We feel that at the end of the book the victim will get up, wipe off the artificial blood and be restored to life. The last thing we get from a Christie novel is the disturbing presence of evil. Admittedly Poirot and Miss Marple occasionally used the word, but with no more relevance than if they were referring to the smell of bad drains.

One of the secrets of her universal and enduring appeal is that it excludes all disturbing emotions; those are for the real world from which we are escaping, not for St. Mary Mead. All the problems and uncertainties of life are subsumed in the one central problem: the identity of the killer. And we know that, by the end of the book, this will be satisfactorily solved and peace and order restored to that mythical village whose inhabitants, apparently so harmless and familiar, prove so enigmatic, so surprising in their ingenious villainy.

What she consistently provided is a strong and exciting narrative, the challenge of a puzzle, an accommodating and accessible style and original detectives in Poirot and Miss Marple, whom readers can encounter in book after book with the comfortable assurance that they are meeting old friends. Her main influence on contemporary crime writers was to affirm the popularity and importance of ingenuity in clue plotting and of surprise in the final solution, thus helping significantly to set the limited range and the conventions of what were to become the books of the Golden Age.

Sayers could have been thinking of Agatha Christie when she wrote:. Just at present… the fashion in detective fiction is to have characters credible and lively; not conventional but, on the other hand, not too profoundly studied-people who live more or less on the Punch level of emotion. She is more than that. She may draw them in clear outline with none of the ambiguities of shading, but she gives us enough to enable us to feel that we know them.

Bartling valued highly the social meaning of literature and sought to make distinctions between different books and readers, helping all levels of the public to become better, healthier readers and citizens. Ritter Jr. The lowest enjoy them by gobbling them up naively, while the intellectual elite use the genre as a new and effective instrument for irony.

Using the Catalogs

Ivans was one of those writers. Ritter applauded him as the first author who acknowledged the dangers of detective fiction and deliberately avoided them in his own work. By doing so, Ivans had succeeded in delivering. One can preach the literary book, but one can also bring the books that the people actually read to a higher standard. Ivans achieved this latter goal. Because of authors like Ivans the detective novel should not have to be completely discarded, but could also be reformed. The assistant character represented the reader and made him aware of the distance between himself and the impressions of the author, thus making sure that the reader could not succumb to careless escapism.


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Ritter thought that the cultural field was excessively divided. On the one hand, there were intellectual writers who turned their backs on the general public, and on the other, there were mass-production factories that dominated the market with imported cultural goods. In the present age, one prefers light literature. And if the public wants such a genre, than we should provide it. But preferably not in the form of Nick Carter, Lord Lister and the likes, whose adventures often follow the same recipe. He wanted to provide what the public wanted, but did not want to go too low.

This meant that he had similar interests to critics like Bartling and Ritter, who were looking for a new kind of national literature and new authors who would step up as leading figures to refine, nationalize and reform popular genres. Throughout the first half of the twentieth century, the pulp series maintained their low cultural status and were considered by many critics to be morally dangerous.

Although the content of the Lord Lister series was somewhat refined when the Dutch author Felix Hageman continued the series under a new publisher, the status of this particular series did not really change. The main objection—making criminality attractive—lost little of its force, for Lord Lister remained a rather ambivalent character who continued to indulge in criminal activities. Their price and material form distinguished them from these series. In addition to this, the specific textual content of the novels played an important role in the image of this type of detective fiction.

An issue of Lord Lister was only 32 pages long, which offered little space for extensive reflection or explanation. Novels, however, had more than enough space for this, and Ivans made full use of it. This meant that even where legal rules were challenged, for instance when Geoffrey Gill perfoms an act that is, strictly speaking, illegal at the end of The Man from France which could hypothetically lead to complaints similar to those directed at the Lord Lister series , Ivans could use the narrative scope of his novel to counter this with a discourse that defended moral and societal norms.

Apparently, the public could not get enough of these stories centred around London, gentlemen-thieves, aristocrats and private detectives. Ivans, however, explicitly added Dutch elements to his British-based detective fiction. This not only led to the greater success of the G. This article has shown how two kinds of detective fiction were creatively adapted and transformed by writers such as Hageman and Ivans and differently evaluated by several critics who mostly approached reading and literature as a social praxis.

In a way, the domestic detective novel had to do exactly the same in a cultural market in danger of being overwhelmed by imported popular fiction. Anonymus, Lord Lister genaamd Raffles: De groote onbekende no. Ardis, Ann, and Patrick Collier eds. Bartling, D. De Leeuw, Kees, Een nuchtere romanticus: leven en werk van Ivans: mr.

Jakob van Schevichhaven, Soesterberg: Aspekt, Utrecht: A. Mosheuvel, L. Brill, , Ruys, Gielkens eds. Nederlandse cultuur in internationale context Amsterdam: Querido, , Deel 7 Amsterdam: Van Oorschot , Van Boven, Erica. Delft, F. Salman eds. Van Gerwen, J. Van Herpen, Jan. Cited from Klubblad Lord Lister Klub no. My translation.

See also Klubblad Lord Lister Klub no.

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Introduction

My translations. The first issue of the series already contained multiple references to Sherlock Holmes. See Anonymus See also Berents , 27, All translations are mine. Public Private login e. Add a tag Cancel Be the first to add a tag for this edition. Lists What are lists?

Login to add to list. Be the first to add this to a list. Comments and reviews What are comments? Add a comment. Central Queensland University. Charles Sturt University. James Cook University. La Trobe University. Monash University. NT Schools Darwin Region.

RMIT University. State Library of NSW. State Library of Queensland. State Library of Western Australia. The University of Melbourne. The University of Queensland. The University of Sydney. University of Adelaide.

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