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date: 14 June 2024

American Detective Fiction in the 20th Centuryfree

American Detective Fiction in the 20th Centuryfree

  • Mary HadleyMary HadleyGeorgia Southern University


  • North American Literatures

It is hard to imagine a time when Britain and France did not have a police force and detectives whose job it was to solve crimes. But until the growth of criminal investigation in the form of Scotland Yard in London, and the Sûreté in Paris, there was no formal detection. The Sûreté (the French crime bureau) was created in the 1820s, followed in Britain in 1842 by a detective branch that was part of the Metropolitan Police of London. Detectives as part of the police forces in New York and other American cities came later still. Therefore, it is not surprising that the detective novel did not arise until 1841 with The Murders in the Rue Morgue by Edgar Allan Poe (1809–1849). Since the United States lagged behind Europe in its policing, Poe set his three detective stories not in New York but in Paris, a city he admired. He based his detective, C. Auguste Dupin, on Francois-Eugene Vidocq, a criminal turned private detective, whose memoirs were published in 1832.

Considering that Poe wrote only three detective stories, The Murders in the Rue Morgue (1841), The Mystery of Marie Roget (1842), and The Purloined Letter (1844), it is amazing that they have had such a far-reaching effect. The Murders in the Rue Morgue introduced a type of detective and some plot characteristics that were imitated by other authors on both sides of the Atlantic for the next one hundred years. C. Auguste Dupin is the original omniscient godlike detective, with the narrator, who is never named, acting as an admiring sidekick. Here is the classical detective story as we knew it for years: the inefficient local police, the locked room, deduction, the surprising solution, and the final explanation of how the crime occurred by a rather condescending Dupin. There are numerous clues, which the reader is supposed to notice, and a puzzle formula, which appealed to all those people who enjoyed conundrums and would later enjoy crosswords. It is clear when one reads the Sherlock Holmes mysteries, which were published fifty years later, that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was most familiar with Poe's three works.

When we are examining the beginning of detective fiction, we cannot fail to mention the “grandmother” or perhaps “great grandmother” of the genre, Anna Katherine Green (1846–1935). Born in Brooklyn, New York, the daughter of a criminal lawyer, Green wrote between thirty and forty mystery or detective fiction works. Her first novel was The Leavenworth Case, published in 1878, and she wrote at least one book a year until her death at age eighty-seven. Her better works feature Ebenezer Gryce, but she was also so ahead of her time as to feature a female detective, Violet Strange, in some works. Although many would denigrate her writing as melodramatic, Green nevertheless deserves an important place in the history of the genre as the first female writer.

Also important because she, too, advanced the detective genre is Mary Roberts Rinehart (1876–1958). Having begun her writing career as a short story writer who aimed to help her family in their financial troubles, Rinehart became one of the highest paid authors before World War I. The Circular Staircase (1908) and The Man in Lower Ten (1909) were her earliest works. Rinehart perhaps influenced later women writers of the cozy genre. Her protagonist is usually an official male detective, but the narrator is usually a woman, often a spinster, who helps solve the crime in an accidental fashion and protects the innocent from suspicion. Rinehart's blending of romance and detection has been criticized by purists, but can certainly be seen imitated in numerous mystery novels to this day.

The Hard-Boiled Detective—the 1920s and 1930s

A description of the American male hard-boiled genre has to include mention of the “Golden Age” in Britain, since the hard-boiled was a direct break from the perceived gentility of the Golden Age. The Golden Age writers—Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Margery Allingham, Josephine Tey, and Ngaio Marsh—wrote a type of detective story between the world wars that eschewed the violence and ugliness so much in evidence during World War I. These writers followed Poe's convoluted plot or puzzle formula, the omniscient detective, and the less than competent sidekick, and have little social criticism in their works. Many of their stories take place in small villages or towns where the criminal is shown as an aberrant personality whose capture will allow the setting to return to its former comfortable situation. These writers basically appealed to a conservative audience who wished to have its position ratified within the patriarchal society. When the readers solved the convoluted mysteries, they felt in control of their world.

Many Americans reading these British authors felt that their gentility had little or nothing to do with life in the big cities they knew so well, and it was not long before they rejected the Golden Age genre in favor of something particularly American. As George Grella reminds us: “Populated by real criminals and real policemen, reflecting some of the tensions of the time, endowed with considerable narrative urgency, and imbued with the disenchantment peculiar to post-war American writing, the hard-boiled stories were considered by their writers and readers honest, accurate portraits of American life” (p. 105). First introduced in the pulp magazines, such as Black Mask, of the 1920s and 1930s, the American male hard-boiled novels came out of the action adventure story. The hero is physically tough, a loner, skillful with a gun, at home in the city streets where he fights criminals. He prefers his own brand of rough justice to that of society, which is often shown as corrupt. Since his quest is more important than love, and since women are often shown as evil, he is forced to eschew a loving relationship.

(Samuel) Dashiell Hammett (1894–1961), one of the most important writers of the hard-boiled genre, left school at thirteen and had a series of jobs, including working for the Pinkerton private detective agency. His first novel, Red Harvest (1929), was followed by the hugely successful The Maltese Falcon (1930) and The Thin Man (1932), both of which were made into movies. Hammett's major claims to fame are his realistic dialogue, his violent, fast-paced action, and his ability to describe a character in sharp strokes. His protagonists, the Continental Op and Sam Spade, are not, like so many British detectives, from the upper classes; rather, they have the tough qualities that allow them to be successful in this hard world. The American private eye is also very different from the well-educated British detective in his speech patterns. His use of the vernacular and witty wisecracks allow him to show his disdain for institutions, expose villains, and, above all, demonstrate his masculinity. In addition, the private eye relies not on the deductive reasoning of the earlier detectives but on his hunches or male intuition.

Unlike the small, rather effete Belgian, Hercule Poirot, Agatha Christie's creation, who was always referring to his “leetle gray cells,” twirling his magnificent mustache, and drinking a tisane, Sam Spade is particularly noteworthy for his fighting physique. It is important in Spade's world that he actually be able to subdue his adversaries, and it is the violent fight sequences that are memorable in many of the books.

American cities in the 1920s were often crime ridden, and it makes sense that Hammett should depict Personville, the city in Red Harvest, as an ugly place, and the violent acts that take place there not as aberrations but as normal. Hammett's urban settings reflect the corruption of their political leaders, and Hammett suggests that such cities cannot be redeemed while a few men in positions of authority pursue wealth to the exclusion of morality.

Raymond Chandler (1888–1959) created Philip Marlowe, a more refined version of Sam Spade, and his novels continued to make the hard-boiled genre respectable and popular throughout the 1930s and 1940s. The Big Sleep (1939) is interesting for its episodic structure and, like Hammett's works, its continued use of the West Coast landscape. Although Marlowe is stylish, he mocks the rich and elite in Farewell, My Lovely (1940), and his creator clearly despised the snobbery often shown in British detective fiction of the same period. For both Chandler and Hammett, the puzzle element of the plots of the Golden Age books is nowhere nearly as important as showing detailed characterizations, human beings with whom we can easily identify and who fascinate us, described as they are, in a wealth of adjectives. Chandler's own words in “The Simple Art of Murder” best describe the hard-boiled hero: “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 a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man” (p. 53).

The 1940s and 1950s

In the 1940s, the hard-boiled genre moved forward with the first work by Mickey Spillane, I, the Jury (1947). This masterful novel introduced readers to Mike Hammer, a P.I. (private investigator) in the tradition of Sam Spade but far more developed as a character. Spillane's first-person narration gives us a greater insight into the thoughts of Hammer than we received with Spade. In addition, Spillane's secondary characters are described in fascinating detail. Although Hammer admits that there is corruption in the police force, he enjoys a good relationship with his detective buddy, Pat Chambers, and the descriptions of an urban wilderness are not the focus of the novel. Hammer is seen as a man who enjoys the company of women and does not treat them badly. In I, the Jury his killing of the beautiful Charlotte Manning, to whom he had seriously contemplated becoming engaged, is an act of necessity and revenge both for the horrific way she killed his best friend and because she had murdered several others and was about to shoot him. In contrast, the punishment of the criminal was not mentioned in the earlier British mysteries. Once the criminal was caught, his fate was left up to the imagination of the reader. The hard-boiled detectives, on the other hand, often took vengeance into their own hands, and their treatment of the criminal, both male and female, could be savage. Spillane, of all the hard-boiled authors, describes some of Mike Hammer's executions in lurid, gut-wrenching details. Charlotte Manning is shot in the stomach, so her death is slow and tortured, while before shooting Doctor Soberin in the face in Kiss Me, Deadly (1952) Hammer deals with him in this way:

I let him keep the gun in his hand so I could bend it back and hear his fingers break and when he tried to yell I bottled the sound up by smashing my elbow into his mouth. The shattered teeth tore my arm and his mouth became a great hole welling blood. His fingers were broken stubs sticking at odd angles. I shoved him away from me, slashed the butt end of the rod across the side of his head and watched him drop into his chair.

(pp. 277–278)

Erle Stanley Gardner (1889–1970), in The Case of the Velvet Claws (1933), introduced readers to a different type of hard-boiled mystery. Gardner's protagonist was a criminal lawyer, Perry Mason, not a private investigator or cop. However, in the style of the hard-boiled genre, he introduces himself thus: “I'm different. I get my business because I fight for it, and because I fight for my clients” (p. 5). Willing to perform many actions that risk his disbarment or endanger his life, Mason never does dull probate work or draws up contracts. He works with a private detective, Paul Drake, and a personal secretary, Della Street, who is completely devoted to him and indeed half in love with him. A lawyer himself, Gardner gave Mason many of his own attitudes, and his legal details were always completely accurate. Writing three to four books a year, Gardner followed a formula that was enormously popular and successful. In most of the books, Mason is called upon to defend a client accused of murder. Although the client may appear guilty, Mason, by digging deep, manages to prove his or her innocence, often at the last minute, in an amazing courtroom scene.

In the 1940s there was a radio show based on the books, and in 1957 Perry Mason became a television show starring Raymond Burr; it ran for nine years, and the reruns can still be seen in many American cities and overseas. Interestingly, the television Mason is nowhere nearly as hard-boiled as the original book version. Although we rarely see Raymond Burr using a gun or getting into fistfights, he still keeps our interest throughout the convoluted plot.

The 1960s–1980s

For many readers, what makes Chester Himes's (1909–1984) books fascinating is that they show life in Harlem from the perspective of an author who was an African American and had spent seven years in the Ohio State Penitentiary. Thus, Himes intimately knew the dark side of the life he portrayed. In addition, he is unusual because he spent the majority of his later years not in the New York he describes but in Paris. Indeed, all his books were originally written in French and translated into English. His main characters are Grave Digger Jones and Coffin Ed Johnson, who is described thus: “Ever since the hoodlum had thrown acid into his face, Coffin Ed had had no tolerance for crooks. He was too quick to blow up and too dangerous for safety in his sudden rages” (Cotton Comes to Harlem, p. 31). For today's readers what continues to make Himes's books enjoyable is the humor articulated by the protagonists even while they comment on the violent Harlem world they inhabit.

Although Evan Hunter (b. 1926) may be known to many readers for his 1954 semiautobiographical novel The Blackboard Jungle, it is his police procedurals about the 87th Precinct, written under the pseudonym of Ed McBain, that have brought him fame. Indeed, numerous police officers admit that they enjoy the series because the dialogue and events are such an accurate portrayal of their own lives. McBain's first book in the series, Cop Hater, was published in 1956; his fifty-first, Money, Money, Money, came out in 2001, and he continues writing. Although McBain calls his imaginary town Isola, it is clearly based on New York City and has all a big city's problems. By using a big city, McBain is able to interweave crimes that take place within the 87th Precinct with those which take place elsewhere, increasing the interest of the reader. To a great extent the city takes on a persona of its own, and as George Dove says, “She also has a leading role in the series, her moods and whims determining to a strong degree the actions and affections of the other characters” (p. 198). The female persona is deliberate because McBain refers to Isola as a woman. Unlike many police procedurals, which focus on only one or two main officers, the 87th Precinct is unusual in that it depicts the work and lives of several male and female police officers. Although the key detectives, Steve Carella, of Italian origin, and Arthur Brown, an African American, appear most often, we also meet several others, such as Lieutenant Peter Byrnes and Eileen Burke. The types of crimes that the officers face have differed enormously over the years, and it is clear that McBain is fully aware of the sexual harassment, racial, and drug-related issues that have plagued the police in recent years. However, probably one of the reasons why real-life police officers enjoy these books is because McBain is “[a] genius for making platitudes exciting…[and has a] skill in dramatizing the commonplace [that] becomes most obvious in those passages in almost every one of the novels in which McBain steps on stage and speaks directly as narrator to the reader” (Dove, p. 202). What also makes the books realistic is having the police concerned with several crimes concurrently. This may make our reading complicated, but it certainly adds to the fast-paced nature of the novels.

Robert B. Parker (b. 1932), a former professor of English at Northeastern University in Boston, is famous for his Spenser P.I. series. His first novel, The Godwulf Manuscript, was published in 1974, and Parker has written twenty-eight more novels in the series since then. Although Parker wrote his Ph.D. dissertation on Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, and was asked by Chandler's heirs to finish the manuscript Chandler was working on when he died, his own protagonist is very different from those early hard-boiled heroes. Spenser, whose first name we never learn, has a sensitive side that is evidenced in his ability to cook gourmet dishes, have a monogamous relationship with the psychologist Susan Silverman, and vomit in reaction to killing the bad guys who plague his work. Susan describes him thus in the 1975 book Mortal Stakes: “You are a classic case for the feminist movement. A captive of the male mystique, and all that.…I'd care for you less if killing…people didn't bother you.”

To counteract the sensitive Spenser, Parker gave him a sidekick, Hawk, in book four of the series, Promised Land. Hawk is an African American who has no compunction about killing or any other illegal act. Despite respecting Hawk, Spenser describes him as “a hurter” and “a bad man” (Promised Land, p. 25), and in later books, it is Hawk who performs most of the tasks that call for really tough action.

Although Parker has continued to write the Spenser series, he has also begun two other detective series. Jesse Stone is the protagonist in Night Passage (1997) and other novels; and Sunny Randall is the new female private investigator in Family Honor (1999) and other books. Sunny, who has a mini bull terrier and a gay male sidekick, was invented because the actress Helen Hunt asked Parker to create a female investigator whom she could portray in a movie.

The 1980s: Female Hard-Boiled Fiction

The 1980s proved to be a watershed in detective fiction, and because of the advent of female hard-boiled fiction, the genre would never be the same again. The early female hard-boiled novelists had enjoyed reading the earlier male writers but were faced with the major dilemma of reconciling traditional femininity with the conventional private detective. They solved it by altering their narratives to include subject matters that concern everyday life and, especially, relationships. The first writer was Marcia Muller (b. 1944) (Edwin of the Iron Shoes, 1977), who was followed by Sara Paretsky (b. 1947) (Indemnity Only, 1982) and Sue Grafton (b. 1940) (A Is for Alibi, 1982).

Muller's original aim was to use the classical puzzle formula but have a female private investigator with whom her readers could identify. Sharon McCone was not going to be too eccentric, but she was going to have some larger-than-life traits. Unlike the male hard-boiled detectives, McCone is not vengeful and cooperates well with the police. She is a feminist in her actions but does not voice feminist rhetoric.

Sara Paretsky's sleuth is the strongest and most overt feminist of the early female hard-boiled detectives. V. I. Warshawski voices her feminist concerns, but manages not to be irritatingly radical, and it is more in her ability to cope both physically and emotionally with male criminals that we see her strength.

Sue Grafton's Kinsey Millhone is similar to McCone and Warshawski, especially in the way she is a fully rounded person. Unlike the early male hard-boiled detectives and those of the Golden Age whose private lives are never examined, the reader learns all the quirks and oddities of these female detectives. From the openings of the novels of these three women writers, we learn not only how their detectives got their jobs but also why, and what effect the work has on their families and friends.

These writers and others changed the detective genre forever because they pushed the mystery novel in new directions as a medium for discussion of serious themes, both feminist themes and wider themes of social justice to which a feminist slant contributes. The American, and indeed the British, female private investigators of the 1980s reflected the growing numbers of women in the workforce, women who chose to be single, were extremely efficient at their jobs, could defend themselves physically, were prepared to use a gun, and constantly questioned the patriarchal society in which they functioned.

Similar to the male hard-boiled fiction in its criticism of society, the female hard-boiled novels of Muller, Grafton, and especially Paretsky use the investigation of a crime to criticize patriarchal institutions. However, although the crime against the individual may be solved at the end of the novel, more usually the major cause of the crime—society or one of its institutions—is unresolved.

Whereas in the earlier traditional detective novels of Poe, Conan Doyle, and the Golden Age writers the world was a just place and the detective, the police force, or the judicial system would remove the criminal and reestablish the status quo, in the female hard-boiled novels, this restoration does not take place because the detectives question the worthiness of the justice system and the establishment in general. We are shown in several instances that villains do not get their just deserts: they escape, they do not serve a sentence, or they commit suicide rather than allow themselves to be captured. Of twenty murderers in Grafton's series, for instance, only two are prosecuted (Kaufman and Kay, p. 259).

Another significant difference from their early male hard-boiled counterparts is in their sexual relationships. Whereas the males may be tempted by villainous females but reject, arrest, or even kill them, the females often fall for men who take advantage of them and try to dominate them. Neither Kinsey Millhone, Grafton's protagonist, nor V. I. Warshawski, Paretsky's heroine, has a long-term committed relationship with an equal partner.

Another important trait of the female hard-boiled detective is her relationship with family and friends. In contrast to her male counterpart of the 1930s and 1940s who is essentially solitary, the female detective is often called upon by her relations to pursue a case concurrently with cases for high-paying clients. Also, V. I. and Kinsey often have family members questioning their motives for pursuing the truth after the authorities have told them to stop, and also questioning their authority to act, as in Paretsky's Killing Orders (1985). However, these new female detectives clearly see their role as righting wrongs. In Dead Lock (1984), Warshawski states that she became an investigator because she was incensed at the guilty going free because they were able to afford cunning lawyers. Muller, Paretsky, and Grafton continue writing interesting, topical, and provocative books, appealing to both feminists and nonfeminists.

The 1990s

The 1990s saw the advent of numerous minority writers: African American, Latino, Native American, gay, and lesbian. Although they began writing in the 1990s, all of these writers follow the traditions begun by the 1980s writers of using the novel as a medium to criticize social ills. Because of the proliferation of new detective fiction authors in the 1990s, space permits the mention of just a few here.

Following in the footsteps of Chester Himes, the African-American Walter Mosley (b. 1952) has written a series whose first novel was made into the successful movie Devil in a Blue Dress (1990). Devil in a Blue Dress is set in Los Angeles in 1948 and introduces us to Ezekiel “Easy” Rawlins and his volatile, amoral sidekick, Mouse. Easy is hired to find a young white woman, Daphne Monet, who is known to go to jazz clubs and hang out with African-American men. Finding Daphne is no real problem, but avoiding trouble is a whole lot harder for Easy, especially when it is discovered that Daphne is part black—an embarrassment to the important white man who loves her.

Although Mosley writes about the postwar era in his books, their content, in particular the way he analyzes race and gender issues, makes him very similar to the women hard-boiled writers of the 1980s. In his third novel, White Butterfly (1992), Easy is married, raising a baby as well as a boy, Jesus, whom he has adopted. Easy has numerous problems with his wife, Regina, because he doesn't want her to know that he is wealthy and a landlord of several properties. She, meanwhile, feels he doesn't trust her or confide in her, and finally leaves him. Easy muses: “I knew that a lot of tough-talking men would go home to their wives at night and cry about how hard their lives were. I never understood why a woman would stick it out with a man like that” (p. 181). Thus Mosley continues the hard-boiled tradition of the past, but with an added thoughtful, analytical twist that makes for fascinating reading.

Another African-American writer who adds to the hard-boiled genre, in this case the female one, is Valerie Wilson Wesley (b. 1947). Her P. I. Tamara Hayle has a teenage son, Jamal, from a former marriage, who at times impinges on the way she can do her work. It is unusual to have a female investigator who is a mother because of the inherent complications to her schedule and conflicts of interest in her investigations. Tamara gets around the problem by having her friend Annie look after Jamal when necessary. But the fact of being a mother affects Tamara because it makes her more cautious both in her private life and in her work. As she says, “I've always chosen my hard-won self-respect over a possibly delightful roll in the sheets, that was one thing I'd learned over the years. I come first. Me and my son, not the possibility of what could be” (Where Evil Sleeps, 1996, p. 49). Like the 1980s female writers, Tamara is called upon by her relatives; for example, in the first novel, When Death Comes Stealing (1994), her ex-husband asks her to investigate the deaths of two of his sons. This interaction between Tamara and her relatives and her own in-depth self-analysis give a flavor to Wilson Wesley's books resembling that of Mosley's.

Having written several young adult and mystery novels under the pseudonym Jack Early, the lesbian author Sandra Scoppettone (b. 1936) created Lauren Laurano in 1991. Laurano is a P.I. in New York City. She lives and works in Greenwich Village and has a female partner, Kip, who is a therapist and counselor. The series, which starts with Everything You Have Is Mine (1991), is very much in the social consciousness-raising mode of the female 1980s writers. Scoppettone, like Wilson Wesley, follows the tradition as described by Ian Ousby:

In the female private-eye novels personal involvement is not just a convenience to get the story going but a signal that its theme will be the detective's own self-discovery and self-definition. She is not just there to solve a mystery but to learn about herself by understanding women from her family past better, or to see herself more clearly by comparing her life with the fate of women friends.

(pp. 186–187)

Lauren, who had been savagely raped when she was eighteen, examines not only her past but also her relationship with her alcoholic mother and enabling father, her own rather judgmental character, and especially her intimate relationship with her lover and partner, Kip. In most of the books she is called upon to solve a murder of a friend or relative of a friend, which usually forces her to learn painful details about her friends. In addition, Scoppettone comments on many of the societal ills of New York, in particular the problems of the poor, the homeless, and the city's gays. Although Scoppettone is not the first lesbian writer to achieve success, she is one of the first to be published by a mainstream publisher. Earlier authors such as Katherine V. Forrest and Barbara Wilson, both of whom wrote in the 1980s, were published by small presses because the mainstream ones steered clear of them (Breen, p. 164).

From the opening chapter in her first book, A Cold Day for Murder (1992), Dana Stabenow's (b. 1952) unique qualities as a writer are apparent. She was born in Anchorage, Alaska, and grew up for a time on a seventy-five-foot fish tender in the Gulf of Alaska. Having had numerous jobs in different parts of Alaska, she is very qualified to describe not only that state's magnificent scenery but also the concerns of the Native Americans who live there. The setting of many of her books is the Alaskan bush, which she describes in such detail that it excites even the most seasoned of armchair travelers. Her characters are the independent Kate Shugak, formerly an investigator for the Anchorage D.A.'s office, now living twenty-five miles from the nearest village; the handsome Jack Morgan, her love interest, among other things; State Trooper Jim Chopin; Kate's assorted Aleut relatives and friends; and, most important, Mutt, part wolf, part husky, but wholly a main character in every book. All of these players are a far cry from the usual urban criminals and good guys found in many mysteries. Every book in the Shugak series is gripping, but Breakup (1997), Hunter's Moon (1999), and Midnight Come Again (2000) are unparalleled. Having written so successfully of a female protagonist, Stabenow created State Trooper Liam Campbell for her second series. Fire and Ice (1998), the first book, introduces us to Campbell, who has been demoted and disgraced because of his actions in Anchorage and sent to Newenham, a small fishing town on the shores of Bristol Bay. There he meets again the only woman he has ever loved, Wyanet Chouinard. This series, like the Shugak one, is filled with exciting action in a stunning setting and characters who fascinate us.

Cuban-born Carolina Garcia-Aguilera (b. 1949) has lived and worked for many years as a private investigator in Miami, Florida, which is probably why Lupe Solano, her P.I. protagonist, is so authentic. Bloody Waters (1996), the first book in the series, introduces Solano, her wealthy family, and the Cuban-American world of South Miami. Garcia-Aguilera depicts the Hispanic culture in fascinating detail, so that Cuba is as much a character as the characters themselves. In this first novel Solano is hired to find the birth mother of an illegally adopted baby girl who is dying of a rare disease curable only by a bone marrow transplant from her birth mother. When she discovers where the mother is living, Solano undertakes a dangerous journey by boat to Cuba to smuggle her into Miami. In all of her books, the author manages to combine a fast-paced mystery with some detailed analysis of how Cuban-Americans feel. For example, in Havana Heat she states, “Cubans in exile and Cubans on the island were separated by geography and politics, but I felt that our hearts beat as one” (p. 235).

It is clear from this description of American detective fiction that the genre has altered greatly from its earliest beginnings. The godlike male protagonist, who solved the puzzling crime with minimal violence and had little concern for the societal conditions of the time, became the tough, gun-wielding hard-boiled detective, who was actively commenting on the ills that surrounded him. Today, this same detective, now often female, solves crimes for friends and family and also addresses a wide variety of discriminatory practices. Detective fiction has moved from being a comforting diversion to telling us “something about the world we live in, and about the best way of living peacefully in it” (Symons, p. 23).

Further Reading

  • Breen, Jon. Gay Mysteries Introduction. In The Fine Art of Murder, edited by Ed Gorman et al New York, 1993.
  • Chandler, Raymond. The Simple Art of Murder. Atlantic Monthly (December 1944): 53–59.
  • Dove, George. The Police Procedural. Bowling Green, Ohio, 1982.
  • Grella, George. The Hard-boiled Detective Novel. In Detective Fiction, edited by Robin W. Winks. Woodstock, Vt., 1980.
  • Hadley, Mary. British Women Mystery Writers. Jefferson, N.C., 2002.
  • Kaufman, Natalie Hevener, and Carol McGinnis Kay. “G” Is for Grafton. New York, 1997.
  • Ousby, Ian. The Crime and Mystery Book. London, 1997.
  • Symons, Julian. Bloody Murder. Harmondsworth, U.K., 1985.