Moving Beyond the Genre: The Critical Reception of Detective Fiction of the 1930s

Stephen Brauer


In an infamous 1944 New Yorker article entitled "Who Cares Who Killed Roger Ackroyd?",  Edmund Wilson penned a highly provocative attack on the genre of detective fiction. [1]   Having rather quickly perused the work of a number of the writers whom readers and other critics had rated the best in the genre (including Dorothy Sayers, Margery Allingham, John Dickson Carr, and others), Wilson summarily dismissed the novels as poorly conceived and written. "With so many fine books to be read," he declares, "so much to be studied and known, there is no need to bore ourselves with this rubbish".  To those who agree with him that these books are essentially worthless, he exclaims, "Friends, we represent a minority, but Literature is on our side" (39-40).  That capital "L" reveals the underlying ideology of the essay.  In drawing such a sharp distinction between detective fiction and Literature, Wilson positions himself as a defender of high culture in the tradition of Matthew Arnold, though one more concerned with market shares than perhaps his nineteenth-century predecessor might have been.  He argues that the discerning reader should spend his time reading "true" artists, including the "many first-rate writers forced out of print" by the public's demand for such trash as mystery stories (40).  Detective fiction, therefore, according to Wilson's line of thinking, posed a threat to art because of its popularity, as opposed to its literary merit.  While we might call such an argument that of a crank lamenting the machinations of the free market system, Wilson's assumption of artistic hierarchies in relation to detective fiction and Literature is valuable to denote, for it represented a common critical position of the time that dismissed popular fiction as mere genre writing and of extremely limited worth.  Indeed, Wilson's fear here concerns the impact of the commercially vigorous middlebrow culture on the future of high culture more than the influence of the "low" subject matter on the sensibilities of readers.

In 1986, the cultural critic Andreas Huyssen published a collection of essays that explored the hierarchical relationship between high art and mass culture.  In these essays, Huyssen is concerned less about whether works of art should be placed in one position in the hierarchy or the other than he is in "the kind of discourse which insists on the categorical distinction" between them (viii).  His focus is on the discourse of the Great Divide – "with its aesthetic, moral, and political implications"– as opposed to an attempt to further inscribe hierarchical differences.  He cites "the last decades of the 19th century and the first few years of the 20th, and then the . . . two decades or so following World War II" as the two periods in which such a discourse was dominant, although he notes that the Divide was still prevalent in the academy when he wrote the piece in the 1980s (vii). [2]   However, he also suggests that the recent developments in the arts, film, literature, architecture, and criticism that we call postmodernism was beginning to pose an increasing challenge to "the canonized high/low dichotomy".  Huyssen entitled his collection of essays After the Great Divide because he believed that the power of the discourse of the Divide, having reached its apex in the mid-20th century, was fading.

Huyssen credits Theodor Adorno and Clement Greenberg with solidifying the ideological import of the Divide in the late 1930s and early 1940s in terms of its social function, especially in regard to class. [3]    He suggests that

both men had good reasons at the time to insist on the categorical separation of high art and mass culture.  The political impulse behind their work was to save the dignity and autonomy of the art work from the totalitarian pressures of fascist mass spectacles, socialist realism, and an ever more degraded commercial mass culture in the West. (ix)

Huyssen quite clearly asserts, though, that their project had "run its course" and that a new paradigm had arrived in which "modernism, avantgarde, and mass culture have entered into a new set of mutual relations and discursive configurations" (ix-x). He writes, "The boundaries between high art and mass culture have become increasingly blurred, and we should begin to see that process as one of opportunity . . . For some time, artists and writers have lived and worked after the Great Divide.  It is time for critics to catch on" (ix). [4]  

This imperative to the academy and the two propositions underlying it – that the boundary lines between the high, the middle, and the low was beginning to blur in the 1980s and that this process needed to be recognized as an opportunity – have proven fruitful for those literary critics who operate in the field of detective fiction.  A number of recent scholars have taken up the project of further historicizing the production of detective fiction as a way of recognizing how its worth, value, and function is embedded within the culture in which it was written.  Not surprisingly, two of the best critiques in recent years – Erin Smith's Hard-Boiled: Working Class Readers and Pulp Magazines and Sean McCann's Gumshoe America: Hard-Boiled Crime Fiction and the Rise and Fall of New Deal Liberalism – deal specifically with the 1930s.  This decade proves to be an especially valuable period through which critics can engage in valuable cultural criticism.  Although both England and the United States underwent powerful socioeconomic and political crises, these were also the years of the Golden Age of detective fiction, as well as the years that the hard-boiled school of crime fiction took root.  By closely examining what Huyssen calls the "set of mutual relations and discursive configurations" within the decade, scholars such as Smith and McCann have helped elide cultural distinctions even further by demonstrating the ways in which the genre of detective fiction, which was often disparaged for its subject matter, as well as its audience, actually played a critical function in its representation of how the culture of the 1930s took shape (x).  They articulate how this genre is particularly compelling in how it enacts the "social processes" through which the culture negotiated issues of gender, class, race, and democratic ideology.  While the contemporaneous response to detective fiction of the 1930s was all too intent on arguing how well it succeeded within the defined confines of the genre and whether the genre in and of itself was even valuable, contemporary critics can now interrogate detective fiction in terms of how it enacts and represents larger ideological positions.  This shift in the field, I am arguing, is deeply linked to what Huyssen identified as the movement when critics would "catch up" and move beyond hierarchical cultural distinctions.

The field of detective fiction grew strikingly between the wars.  In 1914, the Book Review Digest reviewed 12 books of a mystery-detective nature, by 1925 the number was 97, and by 1939 it had grown to  217. [5]    The increase in attention reflected a rise in production to meet the market for such books (which Wilson so clearly lamented).  From the beginning of the 1920s into the 1930s, the dominant mode of the popular detective novel, at least in the minds of most writers and critics, was the “whodunit,” or puzzle story.  The puzzle story offered a structure that was just what it sounds like – a crime that represented a puzzle that a detective put together by investigating, questioning suspects, and engaging in a rigorous process of what Poe called ratiocination.  Readers were implicitly invited to join the detective in solving the puzzle and to identify the killer.  The 'Fair Play' method, in which the author agreed not to mislead or deceive readers in the process of solving the puzzle, was prevalent among most writers.  Ronald Knox, popular detective novelist and well-known essayist, compiled a "Detective Story Decalogue" that served as a guiding list of dos-and-don'ts for detective writers.  Being sure not to conceal any clues from the reader and avoiding the use of 'tricks' in how the murder was committed were two of his essential guidelines.  Similarly, S.S. Van Dine, a well-known mystery novelist in the 1920s and 1930s, wrote out "Twenty Rules for Writing Detective Stories" which included such "laws" as "there must be no love interest", "there must be but one culprit", and "a detective novel should contain no long descriptive passages, no literary dallying with side-issues, no subtly worked-out character analyses, no 'atmospheric' preoccupations" (189-192).  The genre was often positioned as an intellectual game; however, far too often, writers emphasized the 'game' over the 'intellectual'.

Because of the reliance on the puzzle story, some critics saw the genre as a form of escape.  Harrison Steeves of Columbia University suggested that "detective stories are a narcotic, mildly stimulative, to be taken as a rule when productive energy is low and discrimination more or less put aside" (515).  In his judgment, reading detective novels was "a confessedly idle pursuit . . . [and]. . . an unforgivable waste of time when my mental energy is high" (514; 515). Steeves was an adherent of the Great Divide, a believer in Arnold’s dictate that high seriousness was the one true sign of art.  On the other hand, Marjorie Nicolson, also of Columbia University, published an appreciation of the detective novel that turned the hierarchy on its head.  In a drawn-out diatribe against High Modernism, she wrote a defense of the genre and of those academics who embraced it, arguing, "Yes, the detective story does constitute escape; but it is escape not from life, but from literature . . . we have revolted from an excessive subjectivity to welcome objectivity" (113-114).  In place of such "excessive subjectivity" that she might find in Virginia Woolf or James Joyce, Nicolson chose the stylings of the whodunit.  She writes, "We have revolted against contemporary realism, and in these novels we return to an earlier manner.  As every connoisseur knows, the charm of the pure detective story lies in its utter unreality" (117-118).  Her preference for E. C. Bentley over Joyce might have been reactionary, but what is implicit in her argument is that the Divide was real and that it served a purpose in demarcating quality (even if she reverses the usual notion of what is quality).

Q. D. Leavis would have rejected Nicolson's preferences for popular writers out of hand, noting that the wish to meet "recognizable people in fiction, amounting now to a conviction that the novelist's first duty is to provide them, is generally at the bottom of the failure to respond to the finer novels" (60). Leavis would have been especially dismayed at any desire for escape.  In Fiction and the Reading Public, published in 1932, Leavis writes,

The best that the novel can do . . . is not to offer a refuge from actual life but to help the reader to deal less inadequately with it; the novel can deepen, extend, and refine experience by allowing the reader to live at the expense of an unusually intelligent and sensitive mind, by giving him access to a finer code than his own.  But this, we have seen, the popular novels of the age do not do. (74)

Leavis was especially hard on the detective novel, arguing that "the backbone of the detective-story public [scientific men, clergymen, lawyers and businessmen – more upper than lower class and men than women] are those who in the last century would have been the guardians of the public conscience in the matter of mental self-indulgence" (51).  That these readers had forfeited their proper moral and aesthetic position was of great concern to Leavis, who saw a deep threat to Literature much the same way that Edmund Wilson would twelve years later.  For both of these critics, the challenge to high culture came not so much from the low but directly from the middle.  They were part of a larger critique of middlebrow culture that began in the 1920s and in the next three decades included Woolf and Clement Greenberg, ultimately culminating in Dwight Macdonald’s 1960 essay, "Masscult and Midcult". [6]   Each of these critics sought to articulate the damaging effect of the middlebrow on true art, perhaps best emblematized in Rebecca West's clever jibe against popular writers, "No one can write a best-seller by taking thought" (355).  Such critics demanded originality of thought, discipline of language, and, above all, honesty.  Commercial writers who aspired to create Literature and who believed that they had the mind, sensibility, and language to create it were the ones who received their deepest attack, as in Leavis’s rather brutal review of Dorothy Sayers's Gaudy Night and Busman’s Honeymoon. [7]    These critics not only believed in cultural distinctions, they fought to retain them.  Moreover, they perceived the middle as the one that would corrupt either (or both) of the two ends.  As Macdonald put it, "[L]et the masses have their Masscult, let the few who care about good writing, painting, music, architecture, philosophy, etc., have their High culture, and don't fuzz up the distinction with Midcult" (73).

Try as they might, though, such critics as Leavis could not diminish the commercial power of a genre like detective fiction, or even fully convince other critics that such writing was not of value, for it was following her strong diatribes against the public embrace of contemporary popular novelists that the criticism of detective fiction first began to truly flower.  Moreover, while the anxiety that middlebrow culture might pose a threat to high culture was prominent in her criticism, it was not surprisingly of minor importance to most of the critics of the genre itself.  The first major critic of detective fiction was Howard Haycraft, who published Murder for Pleasure, a study of the history of the genre, in 1941.  Haycraft, in his criticism, tended to valorize those writers who operated according to the rules of the Fair Play method, and he established an early canon of those writing in the genre in the 1930s, many of whom are obscure to today’s readers.  He assails Agatha Christie for taking advantage of readers' expectations and for spoiling "the game", as in 1934's Murder on the Orient Express, in which all the suspects are guilty of killing the victim. Although he likes the character of Christie's detective Hercule Poirot – he writes that Poirot "comes closer to symbolizing his profession in the popular mind than any story-book detective since the [Sherlock] Holmes whose methods he professes to deplore"– Haycraft much prefers the work of other writers to Christie (132).  For example, he believes that the novels of Margery Allingham represent "an admirable blend of good story-telling, delicate, yet sharp delineation of character, and puzzles that hinge primarily on mental rather than physical means – the whole presented in the fluid prose of a thoroughly adept and sophisticated craftsman" (185).  He also includes in his canon John Dickson Carr, who, although he utilizes "only conventional and accepted techniques, nevertheless raises those techniques to so high a level of excellence that he stands out above his fellows and merits special mention" (199).  He likewise claims that Michael Innes – author of Hamlet, Revenge and Lament for a Maker, both published in 1938 – was "one of the finest natural talents operating in the genre" and that these two novels' "characters, story, and style have the overtones and flavor of a richly tapestried work" (188-189).  Of American detective writers, he writes of Rex Stout's "exceptional literary talent" and argues that Ellery Queen always provides "honest merchandise" and crafts "the deductive romance at its present-day best" (208; 177).  In contrast to these two, Haycraft says of S .S. Van Dine, author of the highly popular Philo Vance novels, that his heavy pretentiousness and lack of humor became increasingly obtrusive as the 1930s evolved, so that the erudition that Vance exhibited became gratuitous to the mysteries’ solutions. 

Haycraft rarely moves beyond judgments of writers in Murder For Pleasure, which is why the book reads like something of a canon-building exercise.  Only in few instances does he articulate a larger vision, as when he positions the hard-boiled school of detective fiction as something "quite separate and distinct from the English pattern" (171).  He contrasts the hard-boiled writers, whose work he sees as related to the novel of manners, with the British writers of the 1930s, who in their own innovations in the field, move more closely toward an amalgamation with the novel of character and psychology (207).   Haycraft singles out Dashiell Hammett as the writer at the forefront of the realistic or hard-boiled school of detective writing.  "Hammett’s lean, dynamic, unsentimental narratives", he writes, "created a definitively American style" (169).  "As straightaway detective stories they can hold their own with the best.  They are also character studies of close to top rank in their own right, and are penetrating if often shocking novels of manners as well" (171).  In establishing "new standards for realism in the genre", Haycraft says of Hammett, "no other author of modern times – certainly no other American – has so basically changed and influenced the form" (173).  He even goes so far as to argue that Hammett’s novels "miss being Literature, if at all, by the narrowest of margins" (171). 

Haycraft judges Dorothy Sayers to be the one British detective writer from the 1930s who most closely approaches the "literary standards of the legitimate novel" (135).  She attains "high status as an original writer", he feels, in part because she is so deeply invested "in the experiments made toward the amalgamation of the detective story with the legitimate novel, particularly the novel of psychology and character . . . a transfusion [that she believed could serve] as the ultimate salvation of a form fast approaching its limits" (137). [8]   Sayers wanted to break out of merely fulfilling the formula of puzzle-solving laid out by the writers of the 1920s and open up new possibilities for the genre.  While Christie pushed against the boundaries of Fair Play, Sayers sought to rewrite the prescriptives of the genre itself. [9]   In Gaudy Night, published in 1935, and in Busman's Honeymoon, which soon followed it, Sayers constructs mysteries as counterthemes and alternative plots to the principal plots that follow her two detectives Sir Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane.  But, for all her ambition in her "frank and laudable experimentation" with the form, Haycraft judges these two novels "less than completely successful" (138).  Nonetheless, he feels it was imperative that critics recognize the importance of her work, writing that she "was the pioneer in the field, and for all the criticism her laboratory work has evoked, it did much to break down the old taboos which had shackled the form" (139).

It is worth noting that Sayers, Christie, and Hammett are the detective writers now best remembered from the 1930s; the novels of Margery Allingham, Michael Innes, and John Dickson Carr are now mainly out of print.  Rex Stout and Ellery Queen are still in print, but not treated critically as particularly noteworthy.  The innovations pushed by Hammett, Sayers, and Christie – their experimentation with form and their willingness to bend the rules of Fair Play, or to ignore the rules altogether – are the very cause of their lasting reputation.  These innovations were in part an attempt to bridge the Great Divide, to appropriate the form of the high into the low.  For Edmund Wilson, who strictly distinguished between detective fiction and literature, such a merging of the two was just not possible and indeed often meant a defamation of literature.  For instance, in "Who Cares Who Killed Roger Ackroyd?" he writes of Sayers, who sought to bring her work up to the level of the "legitimate" novel,

I had often heard people say that Dorothy Sayers wrote well, and I felt that my correspondents had been playing her as their literary ace.  But, really, she does not write very well: it is simply that she is more consciously literary than most of the other detective-story writers and that she thus attracts attention in a field which is mostly on a sub-literary level.  In any serious department of fiction, her writing would not appear to have any distinction at all. (36)

Indeed, so critical is Wilson that he argues that Sayers’s The Nine Tailors – a novel Haycraft considered a classic of the genre – is "one of the dullest books I have ever encountered in any field" (36).  He has much greater respect for Raymond Chandler, though he makes quite clear that he sees a marked separation between him and writers of literature:

The gift for telling stories is uncommon, like other artistic gifts, and the only one of this group of writers – the writers my correspondents have praised – who seems to me to possess it to any degree is Mr. Raymond Chandler. . . . But Chandler, though in his recent article he seems to claim Hammett as his master, does not really belong to this school of the old-fashioned detective novel.  What he writes is a novel of adventure which has less in common with Hammett than with Alfred Hitchcock and Graham Greene. . . . It is not simply a question here of a puzzle which has been put together but of a malaise conveyed to the reader, the horror of a hidden conspiracy that is continually turning up in the most varied and unlikely forms.  To write such a novel successfully you must be able to invent character and incident and to generate atmosphere, and all this Mr. Chandler can do, though he is a long way below Graham Greene. (38)

There is in his judgment here something of the left-handed compliment.  He admits that Chandler is an artist, but then suggests that in fact he is not writing the same type of novel as other detective writers.  This, of course, implies that there is no artistry in detective novels.  Moreover, even though Wilson is willing to grudgingly give Chandler credit for his gift of storytelling, he still insists on a hierarchy that places Graham Greene far above his American counterpart.  Cultural distinctions are dominant in his reading, and they lead him to pretty much dismiss detective fiction, as a whole, as essentially middlebrow rubbish. [10]

It was up to Chandler, in his own incendiary essay, entitled "The Simple Art of Murder", to more firmly articulate a place for the genre beyond that of escapist kitsch.  Chandler begins by placing realism at the center of what he values, stating, "Fiction in any form has always intended to be realistic" (222).  He thereby directly challenges Q. D. Leavis's claim that novels are not necessarily meant to relate to real life.  However, Chandler also challenges the tradition of the classic detective story that privileged the intellectual game of Fair Play, writing that these stories "do not really come off intellectually as problems, and they do not come off artistically as fiction.  They are too contrived and too little aware of what goes on in the world" (231).  His conception of contrivance is central to why he dismisses the adherents of the Fair Play method.  He seeks to displace Christie, Van Dine, Queen, and any other adherents of puzzle-solving from the heart of the detective fiction canon and to instead situate Hammett there.  "Hammett", he famously asserts, "gave murder back to the kind of people that commit it for reason, not just to provide a corpse; and with the means at hand, not with hand-wrought dueling pistols, curare, and tropical fish.  He put these people down on paper as they are, and he made them talk and think in the language they customarily used for these purposes" (234).  His privileging of realism – of capturing the language and the motives of actual criminals and not the contrivances of the "drawing-room" mystery – is not something that Chandler sees as singular to Hammett.  He places him in a tradition, a tradition it is crucial for us to realize, that extends far outside of the realm of the genre of detective fiction:

Hammett was the ace performer, but there is nothing in his work that is not implicit in the early novels and short stories of Hemingway.  Yet, for all I know, Hemingway may have learned something from Hammett, as well as from writers like Dreiser, Ring Lardner, Carl Sandburg, Sherwood Anderson and himself.  A rather revolutionary debunking of both the language and material of fiction had been going on for some time.  It probably started in poetry; almost everything does.  You can take it clear back to Walt Whitman, if you like.  But Hammett applied it to the detective story, and this, because of its heavy crust of English gentility and American pseudo-gentility, was pretty hard to get moving. (233)

Hemingway, Dreiser, Anderson, even Whitman.  Chandler wants to situate Hammett not only at the head of the field when it comes to detective fiction, he wants to place him in the pantheon of American literary fiction.  It is here that Chandler offers his most compelling argument for disregarding the hierarchy of cultural distinctions, for he skillfully recognizes that a key way of bridging those distinctions is to perceive the high, middle, and low through the same lens:

As for literature of expression and literature of escape, this is critics' jargon, a use of abstract words as if they had absolute meanings.  Everything written with vitality expresses that vitality; there are not dull subjects, only dull minds.  All men who read escape from something else into what lies behind the printed page; the quality of the dream may be argued, but its release has become a functional necessity.  All men must escape at times from the deadly rhythms of their private thoughts.  It is part of the process of life among thinking beings. (232)  

Instead of dismissing the relevance of "escape", he repositions it as an essential element of all men’s lives, as well as of all literature that is written with “vitality.”  Moreover, throughout the essay he links vitality with realism, suggesting that it is only through an engagement with real people, a representation of real motives, and a portrayal of the real means through which one person kills another, that detective fiction can truly succeed.  If a detective writer such as Hammett – and by extension Chandler himself – can follow such dictates, then readers and critics need to recognize the larger tradition in which that writer is operating.  The function of the genre of detective fiction, under such a conception, should be a representation of actual life, just as the function of the literature of realism itself is to represent accurately the present-day world.

Other critics who followed Chandler also made compelling arguments concerning the function of detective fiction, most notably W. H. Auden in his well-known essay, "The Guilty Vicarage". In this essay, Auden harkens back to the era of puzzle-solving and to the 1920s tradition of programmatic and often dogmatic criticism, writing, for instance, that the detective story "must conform to certain formulas" (146).  Auden does not embrace Chandler's definitions of the genre, arguing baldly that "detective stories have nothing to do with works of art" (147).  (Interestingly, Auden places Chandler's own writing outside of the milieu of detective fiction, suggesting that Chandler himself writes "powerful but extremely depressing books [that] should be read and judged, not as escape literature, but as works of art" (151).)  Although Auden's approach is somewhat reactionary, he nevertheless extends his thinking beyond the rigid formulations of Ronald Knox and S. S. Van Dine to consider the function of the detective story’s formula, positing a much more sophisticated internal logic than anyone else had previously offered.  For Auden, "the interest in the detective story is the dialectic of innocence and guilt" (147).  The spiritual unity of the genre is at the heart of his reading.  The story begins in an Edenic setting – the "Great Good Place", as he puts it – and the murder is a sin which violates the moral code of that place (151).  The detective arrives to set things right again.  As he puts it,

The job of the detective is to restore the state of grace in which the aesthetic and the ethical are as one.  Since the murderer who caused their disjunction is the aesthetically defiant individual, his opponent, the detective, must be either the official representative of the ethical or the exceptional individual who is himself in a state of grace. (154)

His conception of the formula of the story has been widely influential, not only in the particular function that he saw the story playing, but in the very notion that the story had a function.  Whereas Haycraft focused his work on treating writers individually, Auden implies that the critic should center his thinking not on individual writers – though he does consider a few – but on how the genre itself operates.  This has been the greatest value of his essay, and the element that points forward to the work of later critics.

Twenty-five years later, in the early 1970s, George Grella authored two valuable essays, "The Formal Detective Novel" and "The Hard-Boiled Detective Novel", that, as in "The Guilty Vicarage", focused on the function of the formula in detective fiction.  He makes his critical debt clear by writing near the beginning of "The Formal Detective Novel", "As Auden implies, the detective novel’s true appeal is literary" (88).   However, while Auden had posited a Biblical structure – the expulsion from Eden and then a return to the Great Good PlaceGrella instead connects the genre to the comedy of manners and the romance novel.  His two essays place the two strands of detective fiction, the British or classic school and the hard-boiled school, within larger literary traditions and further seeks to remove them from the middlebrow; while he owes a critical debt to Auden, in other words, he also aligns himself with Chandler in refusing to admit a Great Divide between detective stories and art in the way that Auden had.  He claims, for instance,

English fiction most often avoids and condemns the extremes of violence, disorder, or anti-social action, favoring instead wholeness, harmony, and social integration, the stable virtues of an essentially benevolent and correct society.  Firmly in the mainstream of English literature, the detective novel shares a strong affinity with the 'great tradition' identified by F. R. Leavis as central to British fiction. (100). 

Similarly, in considering the novels of Hammett and Chandler, he asserts,

The hard-boiled detective novel, the romance thriller, clearly demonstrates a significant and meaningful relationship with some of the most important American literature; at its best, moreover, it possesses the thoughtfulness and artfulness of serious literary work.  A valuable and interesting form, it presents a worthy alternative to the thriller of manners, and indicates the potency and durability of the national cultural vision, the American Dream, as it constantly metamorphoses into nightmare.(120)

These are powerful statements, claims that firmly situate detective fiction in a broader milieu than that often posed by earlier critics who thought of the genre only in terms of 'escape'.   Moreover, and just as importantly, by not only articulating the workings of the genre – which he develops in great depth – but by trying to elide the cultural hierarchy, Grella offers a critical methodology in which he feels no need to justify studying popular culture.

Grella's essays, originally published in the early 1970s, are products of his time.  The social and cultural upheavals of the 1960s and the 1970s in America, for instance – the civil rights movement, the Black Arts movement, the women’s movement, the War on poverty and urban riots, Vietnam, the assassinations of the Kennedy brothers and Martin Luther King, Jr., Watergate – were also deeply powerful factors that inspired many critics to challenge the traditional canon of American literature and culture by expanding what can and should be studied.  In this vein, David Madden, in the Introduction to the 1968 collection of essays, Tough Guy Writers of the Thirties, suggests that popular literature is a key source for critics who want to know something about the past:

Every type of fiction has its own degree and special kind of relevance to the total body of literature and to the nature and composition of society, which it both reflects and affects…Every novel, directly (Upton Sinclair's The Jungle) or indirectly (Camus' The Stranger), makes its impact on the public mind and ultimately, in ways that remain a mystery, on human behavior.  Perhaps we ought to assess more fully the consequences of the fact that popular writers, perhaps more than writers whom critics admire, affect the nerve centers of mass experience and shape the attitudes and predispositions of the mass of men.  (xxii) 

Similarly, Robin Winks, in his Introduction to a collection of essays entitled Detective Fiction, published in 1980, echoes Madden's sentiments, arguing, "If literature, any literature, helps us to decode our environment as we wish to relate to it, it is valuable"(4).  Winks envisions the genre of detective fiction as central to society, writing that it "continues to mirror society, not only in its concern, its moral awareness, and its language.  It also helps tell us who we are; as individuals" (9).  As Madden does in his Introduction, Winks asserts that detective fiction is intimately connected to cultural history, attesting that through detective fiction "we may see society’s fears made most explicit; for some, those fears are exorcised by the fiction. . . . It is clear why the historian, at least, should find detective fiction valuable" (7). 

Like these critics, John Cawelti, in his 1976 study Adventure, Mystery, and Romance, explores the complications inherent in genres that are often dismissed as merely 'escape' (as his title makes explicit, he looks at the genres of adventure and romance as well).  Cawelti presents interpretations of the successes (and failures) of Hammett and Chandler, Christie and Sayers, that are based on a systematic approach to literary formulas for detective fiction that extend rather far beyond Auden and echo Grella.  But, while his interpretations of individual writers are valuable enough, what really distinguishes Cawelti's work is his articulation of the cultural role in the formulas of detective fiction, especially the cultural background of the novel and the cultural function of the story itself.  He takes note, for instance, of the dynamics of American culture during the Prohibition years that influenced the construction of a new type of hero.  He writes,

The emergence of the gangster hero in the 1920s and the 1930s signaled the evolution, particularly in America, of a new constellation of values.  The family circle, never as strong in America as in England had increasingly lost its moral authority while the ideology of the individual success and rising in society became the prevailing ethos.  Overtly, the classic gangster film and the hard-boiled detective story portrayed the downfall of an individual who had sought wealth and power by immoral means.  Yet beneath the moralistic surface of the story the gangster film expressed a burning resentment against respectable society and a fascination with the untrammeled and amoral aggressiveness of a Little Caesar or a Scarface.  Similarly, the hard-boiled detective story presented a hero who not only acted outside the law to bring about true justice, but had turned his back on the ideal of success.  In both these formulas, the treatment of crime enabled writers to express latent doubts about the ideal of success, while still insisting on the basic moral proposition that crime does not pay.  (77)

Cawelti situates detective fiction on one level within the context of film, but on a larger level within the contexts of shifting conceptions of the family, of American values, and of the ideology of American Individualism. 

Like Cawelti, Julian Symons recognized the cultural implications at work within mystery stories in his major study of the genre, Mortal Consequences, published in 1972. [11]   He spends a good deal of time on individual writers.  He is partial to puzzle writers; although he dismisses Rex Stout, Margery Allingham, and Dorothy Sayers's experiments in the genre in the 1930s as failures, he valorizes John Dickson Carr, Ellery Queen, Michael Innes, and especially Agatha Christie.  He also discusses Francis Iles, Faulkner's Sanctuary and the early novels of James M. Cain, though he regards these latter ones as having too much of "a coarseness of feeling allied to a weakness for melodrama" (128). Symons’s inclusion of these writers and texts complemented critical work happening elsewhere.  David Madden's anthology Tough Guy Writers of the 1930s, for instance, includes essays on Hemingway next to ones on the Black Mask school of hard-boiled writers.  Madden also sandwiches essays on James Cain and Horace McCoy around one on John O'Hara.  Like Madden, then, Symons makes explicit the connections between the detective novels of the 1930s and some of the more canonical works of that decade.  In so doing, he helps to extend the reach of the criticism of detective fiction into a new realm – the criticism of crime fiction – and to further blur the lines of cultural categories of high, middle, and low.  The novels of Iles, Cain, or McCoy were not mysteries per se, neither were Hemingway's To Have and Have Not nor Faulkner’s Sanctuary, for all of these focused on the criminal and the commission of the crime, as opposed to the solution of the crime.  But these novels do complement the novels of the hard-boiled school of detective fiction in that crime itself was of central concern.  The work of Symons and Madden does with the scholarship just what Chandler had pushed for back in the 1940s – it places detective fiction into the tradition of realism and recognizes its position as a viable alternative to other, more 'canonical' texts.

In addition to his reshaping of the canon, Symons – like Cawelti and other critics of the 1960s and 1970s – recognizes a key cultural distinction in the 1930s that marked the schism between the American hard-boiled school and the British school.  He says of the Brits writing in the 1930s, almost all of whom operated within the puzzle tradition, "Most of the new writers, like the old ones, had at least some implicit right-wing sympathies.  Their policemen were all good, their Radicals bad or silly, they took the existing social order for granted" (114-115).  While hard-boiled fiction contained a great deal of violence, cynicism, and class tensions, the British school tended to be much more conservative in its ideological implications.  It did not represent a challenge to the status quo in any similar way to that of the hard-boiled school.  This idea is further elaborated in Dennis Porter's The Pursuit of Crime: Art and Ideology in Detective Fiction.  Porter, writing in 1981, reinforces the distinction between the British and American schools, noting that the differences between the two is apparent not only in the type of detective story (puzzle vs. hard-boiled), but in the writers' use of language itself.  In contrasting Hammett and Chandler with Christie, "What we find in the language of the two writers", Porter claims, "is the implied preference for directness over formality, lower-class speech over upper, popular over high culture, American forthrightness over English gentility" (139).  His connection between style and ideology, much like Stephen Knight's in Form and Ideology in Crime Fiction, has been widely influential in the field.  Such criticism moves far beyond assessments of individual writers and the formula of the genre to consider how detective fiction of the 1930s engaged and represented larger cultural questions and issues. 

We can contextualize these interpretations, much like Grella's and Cawelti's, within the era in which they originated – a time of social and cultural change.  Indeed, other movements in the academy likewise were seeking to understand the ideological assumptions and cultural role of texts.  In the field of American Studies, writers such as Bruce Kuklick and R. Gordon Kelly were challenging the hegemony of the Myth and Symbol School of criticism by insisting that ideology must be considered as an element of literary and cultural scholarship.  In England, Raymond Williams, Stuart Hall, and others in the Birmingham School were establishing the field of Cultural Studies and extending the implications and possibilities of Marxist criticism.  Poststructuralism, psychoanalytic criticism, feminist criticism, queer studies, gender studies, new historicism, African-American, ethnic, and postcolonial criticism were all also changing the academic landscape and leading to widespread possibilities in the methodological approach to literary texts.  Megan Abbott, for instance, writes in The Street Was Mine: White Masculinity in Hardboiled Fiction and Film Noir of her intention to "introduce a new range of texts . . . into the analysis of the powerful representation of American white masculinity within American literary studies" (5).  "To neglect pop culture texts like those of Cain [and] Chandler", she asserts, "is to miss the crucial insight into mid-twentieth-century American attitudes toward whiteness, blackness, masculinity, and femininity, and especially the constantly shifting relationships between these constructions"(5).  This type of reading represents a significant movement in the critical reception of detective fiction, especially in terms of its treatment of the "rubbish" that Edmund Wilson denigrated in 1944 and its movement beyond thinking of the genre merely as escapist.  Abbott is openly challenging the distinctions of cultural categories in such a reading of 1930s American popular literature.

Sean McCann, meanwhile, takes his reading of the cultural implications of American hard-boiled fiction even further than Abbott, arguing that

hard-boiled fiction became, as it developed during the years between the wars, not just a style of popular entertainment, but a kind of literary critique – a metaphorical account of the possibilities for public life in a society newly acquainted with the power of the mass media and with the preeminence of a national, professional elite.  By the same token, it amounted to a telling political fable for an era in the midst of profound transformation.  In their renditions of a vanguardist and ultimately doomed effort to assert public values over private interests – and in their attempts to reconcile the world of literary expertise with the spirit of a pulp fiction largely associated with the working class – the genre's major writers echoed the rhetoric that ran through the contemporaneous development of New Deal liberalism. (4-5)

McCann, like a number of other contemporary critics, has recognized the ways in which American detective fiction of the 1930s offers rich material for today’s readers interested in the ideological complexities and the sociocultural dynamics of the 1930s.  Ron Thomas, in his excellent 1999 study Detective Fiction and the Rise of Forensic Science, nimbly demonstrates that British detective fiction poses similar possibilities for critics.  In considering Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express, Thomas describes Hercule Poirot – Christie's detective – "as a defender of European collectivism” and writes that “[Poirot’s] efforts of detection in the case run “perfectly parallel to the post-war European agenda for order and security" (270).  Thomas reads the novel as a metaphor focused on Europe's reaction to the rise of the United States to world power following World War I.  He deems Poirot's willingness to agree to a false solution to the mystery – that a mysterious and elusive figure has snuck onto the train, killed the American victim and then escaped, as opposed to Poirot's discovery that the victim was in fact stabbed by each of the passengers as revenge for his participation in an infamous kidnapping in America – indicates "that the Belgian detective's role as the defender of European collective national interests against the rising power of a lawless, post-nationalist culture of criminality and chaos demands that he make this choice" (274).  Thomas's skilled reading does an admirable job of demonstrating that American sociocultural dynamics are not the only possibilities for examination when it comes to an interpretation of detective fiction.

Indeed, one of the key facets of the recent criticism of 1930s British detective fiction has been the reclaiming of the middlebrow that Q. D. Leavis and Edmund Wilson were so keen on marginalizing.  As Madden, Winks, Cawelti, and others had implied during the 1960s and 1970s, there is value in reading the literature that was popular.  Inspired by such critics as Janice Radway and Joan Shelley Rubin, as well as feminist critics such as Rita Felski, Alison Light and Ann Ardis have sought to assert a position for what was once derided as merely middlebrow.  Ardis writes,

Expanding [revisionary histories of modernism] to include consideration of writers who have been "exiled by genre" allows us to interrogate . . . the critical paradigms that continue to sustain such oppositions.  Even more fundamentally, investigating what is entailed in this kind of exile invites us to review the way we conceptualize the ideology of form.  It is one thing to reconfigure the traditional opposition between form and content by arguing that form is content; form is always already ideological. . . . But it is quite different to then assert that a particular form is necessarily freighted ideologically in a particular way.  That second critical move formalizes ideology, ignoring certain kinds of questions about both literary production and reception.  (125-126) 

Light, meanwhile, in Forever England: Femininity, Literature, and Conservatism Between the Wars, has tried to establish a more nuanced understanding of Agatha Christie's social ideology, arguing that "If Agatha Christie is to be understood not as the doyenne of country house fiction but as queen of the ‘middlebrows,’ we need to remind ourselves just how modern a conservative creature the middlebrow was" (75).  Christie's conservatism "always sits uneasily with an enlightened and modern outlook", Light suggests, "and may have been representative of readers' own ambivalence in the mid-1930s: the addictive nature of the reading depends in part on just this disjuncture between conservatism and modernity" (101).  In its consideration of the middlebrow, conservatism, and modernity, Light's reading of Christie's work interestingly enacts the elision between cultural categories that Andreas Huyssen demarcated in After the Great Divide.  Moreover, Light's work has implications for the discipline beyond Chistie's fiction.  The attempt to reclaim the middlebrow is an important site of critical debate; along with other methodological approaches that have emerged in the last few decades, it has offered critics a useful tool to unpack the complex social dynamics in these novels. [12]

Two elements ultimately rest at the heart of the critical reception of detective fiction of the 1930s during the last 20-30 years.  Critics have come to articulate the position of the text within the culture so that they examine how the fiction shaped and was shaped by the culture of that decade.  In so doing, critics have interrogated much more intentionally how detective fiction represented and enacted ideological positions.  This marks a striking change from the criticism of the 1930s and 1940s, which mainly looked at how well individual authors followed the rules of Fair Play or sought to offer a justification for treating the literature as 'legitimate' fiction.  This last point leads to the second major shift in the critical reception.  As Huyssen noted, the notion of the Great Divide has passed the apex of its influence.  Irrespective of the culture wars that continue to crop up intermittently, the academy seems to be much more willing to treat the high and the low on equal terms and to assess the middle with much greater discernment.  This follows the notion that literary texts represent, enact, or position themselves against ideological positions of the culture in which they were produced.  If this is true of The Sound and the Fury, The Waves, or Finnegan's Wake, it is also true of The Thin Man, The Big Sleep, and Gaudy Night.  Recognizing the correspondences between the high, the middle, and the low has allowed critics to apply the theoretical frameworks often applied to high art to that of more popular fiction, complicating our understanding of the latter texts and opening up new avenues for other critics to explore.  The critical reception of the detective fiction produced in the 1930s has evolved so that that fiction, I would argue, is as compelling for us to read today than it was at the time.  The novels have always been a fun read.  But what critics are currently making of detective fiction has gone beyond the apparatus or formula of the genre to an examination of the social and cultural dynamics of the 1930s.

Works Cited

Adorno, Theodor and Max Horkheimer. Dialectic of Enlightenment.  1944.  New York: Continuum, 1990.

Ardis, Ann. Modernism and Cultural Conflict, 1880-1922.  New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

Auden, W. H.  "The Guilty Vicarage." The Dyer's Hand and Other Essays.  New York: Random House, 1956. 15-24.

Brooks, Van Wyck.  "Highbrow and Lowbrow."  Three Essays on America.  New York: E. P. Dutton, 1934. 15-35.

Cawelti, John G.  Adventure, Mystery, and Romance: Formula Stories as Art and Popular Culture.  Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1976.

Chandler, Raymond.  "The Simple Art of Murder." The Art of the Mystery Story: A Collection of Critical Essays, ed. Howard Haycraft.  New York: Simon and Schuster, 1946.  222-37.

DiMaggio, Paul J.  "Cultural Entrepreneurship in Nineteenth-Century Boston." Nonprofit Enterprise in the Arts, ed. Paul J. DiMaggio.  New York: Oxford UP, 1986. 41-61.

Docherty, Brian, ed.  American Crime Fiction: Studies in the Genre.  New York: St. Martins Press, 1988.

Gans, Herbert.  Popular Culture and High Culture.  New York: Basic Books, 1974.

Greenberg, Clement.  "Avant-Garde and Kitsch."  Art and Culture: Critical Essays.  Boston: Beacon Press, 1961.  3-21.

Grella, George.  "The Formal Detective Novel." Detective Fiction: A Collection of Critical Essays, ed. Robin Winks.  Englewood, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1980.  84-102.

-----. "The Hard-Boiled Detective Novel." Detective Fiction: A Collection of Critical Essays. Ed. Robin Winks.  Englewood, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1980.  103-20.

Huyssen, Andreas.  After the Great Divide: Modernism, Mass Culture, Postmodernism. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986.

Kammen, Michael.  American Culture, American Tastes: Social Change and the 20th Century.  New York: Knopf, 2000.

Kasson, John.  Amusing the Million.  New York: Hill and Wang, 1978.

Knight, Stephen.  Form and Ideology in Crime Fiction.  Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1981.

Knox, Ronald.  "Detective Story Decalogue." The Art of the Mystery Story: A Collection of Critical Essays. Ed. Howard Haycraft.  New York: Simon and Schuster, 1946. 194-96.

Krutch, Joseph Wood.  " 'Only a Detective Story'." Detective Fiction: A Collection of Critical Essays, ed. Robin Winks.  Englewood, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1980.  41-46.

Leavis, Q. D. "The Case of Miss Dorothy Sayers," Scrutiny Vol. VI (3): 334-340.

-----.  Fiction and the Reading Public.  London: Chatto and Windus, 1932.

Levine, Lawrence.  Highbrow/Lowbrow: The Emergence of Cultural Hierarchy in America.  Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1988.

Light, Alison.  Forever England: Femininity, Literature, and Conservatism Between the Wars.  New York: Routledge, 1991.

Macdonald, Dwight.  "Masscult and Midcult," Against the American Grain.  NY: Vintage, 1962: 3-75.  Originally published in Partisan Review (Spring, 1960).

Madden, David, ed. Tough Guy Writers of the Thirties.  Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois UP, 1968.

Most, Glenn and William W. Stowe, eds.  The Poetics of Murder: Detective Fiction and Literary Theory.  New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1983.

Murch, Alme. The Development of the Detective Novel.  New York: Greenwood Press, 1958.

Nicolson, Marjorie.  "The Professor and the Detective." The Art of the Mystery Story: A Collection of Critical Essays, ed. Howard Haycraft.  New York: Simon and Schuster, 1946.  110-27.

Porter, Dennis.  The Pursuit of Crime: Art and Ideology in Detective Fiction.  New Haven, CT: Yale UP, 1981.

Rosenberg, Bernard and Daniel Manning White, eds.  Mass Culture: The Popular Arts in America.  Glencoe, IL: Free Press, 1957.

Rubin, Joan Shelley.  The Making of Middlebrow Culture.  Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1992.

Sayers, Dorothy.  "Gaudy Night". The Art of the Mystery Story: A Collection of Critical Essays, ed. Howard Haycraft.  New York: Simon and Schuster, 1946.  208-21.

Steeves, Harrison.  "A Sober Word on the Detective Story". The Art of the Mystery Story: A Collection of Critical Essays, ed. Howard Haycraft.  New York: Simon and Schuster, 1946.  513-26.

Symons, Julian.  Mortal Consequences, 1972.  Reprinted as Bloody Murder.  New York: Viking, 1985.

Van Dine, S. S.  "Twenty Rules for Writing Detective Stories". The Art of the Mystery Story: A Collection of Critical Essays, ed. Howard Haycraft.  New York: Simon and Schuster, 1946.  189-93.

Varnadoe, Kirk and Adam Gopnik.  High and Low.  New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1990.

-----. Readings in Popular Culture.  New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1990.

Warshow, Robert.  The Immediate Experience: Movies, Comics, Theatre and Other Aspects of Popular Culture.  Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1962.

West, Rebecca. "The Tosh-Horse," The Strange Necessity. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, Doran & Co., 1928: 353-360.  Originally published in The New Statesman.

Wilson, Edmund.  "Who Cares Who Killed Roger Ackroyd?" Detective Fiction: A Collection of Critical Essays, ed. Robin Winks.  Englewood, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1980.  35-40.

Winks, Robin. "Introduction". Detective Fiction: A Collection of Critical Essays, ed. Robin Winks.  Englewood, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1980.  1-14.


End Notes

[1] I would like to thank Joan Saab, Jim Mancall, and Mary Grover for their assistance with this essay.

[2] For valuable histories of the development of cultural hierarchies, see Paul J. DiMaggio, "Cultural Entrepreneurship in Nineteenth-Century Boston", Nonprofit Enterprise in the Arts, ed. Paul J. DiMaggio (New York: Oxford UP, 1986) 41-61; Michael Kammen, American Culture, American Tastes: Social Change and the 20th Century (New York: Knopf, 2000) and Lawrence Levine, Highbrow/Lowbrow: The Emergence of Cultural Hierarchy in America (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1988).

[3] Clement Greenberg, "Avant-Garde and Kitsch", Partisan Review (Fall, 1939): 34-49 and Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer, Dialectic of Enlightenment (1944; New York: Continuum, 1990).

[4] Of course, many critics had caught on.  See Van Wyck Brooks, "Highbrow and Lowbrow", Three Essays on America (New York: E.P. Dutton, 1934): 15-35; Bernard Rosenberg and Daniel Manning White, eds., Mass Culture: The Popular Arts in America (Glencoe, IL: Free Press, 1957); Robert Warshow, The Immediate Experience: Movies, Comics, Theatre and Other Aspects of Popular Culture (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1962); Herbert Gans, Popular Culture and High Culture (New York: Basic Books, 1974); John Kasson, Amusing the Million (New York: Hill and Wang, 1978); and Kirk Varnadoe and Adam Gopnik, High and Low (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1990) and Varnadoe and Gopnik, Readings in Popular Culture (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1990).

[5] Howard Haycraft, Murder for Pleasure (NY: D. Appleton-Century, 1941) 181.

[6] See Joan Shelley Rubin, The Making of Middlebrow Culture (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1992).

[7] "The Case of Miss Dorothy Sayers", Scrutiny Vol. VI (3): 334-340. Leavis finds Sayers' work to be "stale, second-hand, hollow . . . it is all shadow boxing" (336).  She writes, moreover, that "if the younger generation read her novels with pleasure as she alleges then the higher education of women is in a sadder way than any feminist would bear to contemplate" (339). 

[8] We should contrast this, of course, with Leavis's judgment about Sayers.

[9] In an essay that served as an introduction to her 1935 novel Gaudy Night, Sayers wrote that she had come to believe that "if the detective story [is] to live and develop it must get back to where it began . . . and become once more a novel of manners instead of a pure crossword puzzle" (209).  To do so, detective writers needed to strive for a higher form of construction, so that "the criticism of life [is] not relegated to incidental observations and character sketches, [is] actually part of the plot, as it ought to be" (209).

[10] Many critics offered strong ripostes to Wilson.  For a representative response, see Joseph Wood Krutch, "Only a Detective Story," Detective Fiction: A Collection of Critical Essays, ed. Robin Winks (Englewood Hills, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1980) 41-46. Krutch, for instance, zeroes in on Wilson's insistence on artistic hierarchies by seeking to problematize Wilson's assumptions of quality.  He writes,

The distinction is often made between what one 'ought' to read and what one will enjoy reading.  In connection with works of instruction and information, the distinction is one which is perfectly legitimate.  But when it is employed also in connection with works of belles-lettres, it is preposterous in itself and an outward sign that those who permit themselves to employ it are also assuming some real distinction between what is important and what is interesting.  But to the artist no such distinction ought to be possible.  In art whatever is interesting is, artistically, important; and anything which seems important but not interesting is, artistically, not really important so far as that work of art is concerned. (44)

Krutch even goes so far to argue that the reliance on formula need not be the source of critics' dismissal of the genre, defending the "puzzle story" as tantamount to tradition: 

No inconsiderable part of the great literature of the world has been written within the limitations of an established tradition, and so written not because the authors lacked originality but because the acceptance of a tradition and with it of certain fixed themes and methods seems to release rather than stifle the effective working of the imagination.  Perhaps instead of saying that the detective story follows a formula we should say that it has form, and perhaps we should go on from that to wonder whether this very fact may not be one of the reasons for its popularity at a time when the novel, always rather loose, so frequently has no shape at all. (42) 

In some ways echoing Marjorie Nicolson's disregard for the experimentation of the High Modernists, Krutch here argues that the public appetite for "form" is not something that should be treated as a sign of a lack of art.  The whodunit, in other words, although it followed a strict formula and so often depended on the rules of Fair Play, nonetheless represented an artistic achievement.  Clearly conscious of the discourse of the Divide, he sought to bridge the gap and to position detective fiction as one individual branch of literature with rich connections to other branches. 

[11] Besides Howard Haycraft's Murder for Pleasure, Alme Murch's The Development of the Detective Novel, published in 1958, is the other major study of the history of British and American detective fiction that preceded Symons’s. 

[12] Other examples of criticism in the last twenty years that utilize some different methodologies that have emerged in the past 20-30 years in order to read detective fiction written in the 1930s with a greater emphasis on social processes include Traces, Codes, and Clues: Reading Race in Crime Fiction, by Maureen T. Reddy; Hard-Boiled: Working Class Readers and Pulp Magazines, by Erin Smith; Anatomy of Murder: Mystery, Detective, and Crime Fiction, by Carl D. Malmgren; Mystery and Its Fictions, by David Grossvogel; and Detective Fiction and Literature, by Martin Priestman.  In addition, three editions of collected essays have offered wonderful essays on Hammett, Christie, Ngaio Marsh, Sayers, Cain, and Faulkner.  American Crime Fiction, edited by Brian Docherty, Essays on Detective Fiction, edited by Bernard Benstock, and The Poetics of Murder, edited by Glenn Most and William Stowe all present compelling perspectives on the writers operating in the genre in the 1930s.