First appearance: The Academy (30 December 1905).
Reprinted in Haycraft's The Art of the Mystery Story (1946).
THE DETECTIVE IN LITERATURE is hardly more than fifty years old, but already he is passing into decay. He has enjoyed extraordinary popularity, and may even claim to be the only person equally loved by statesmen and by errand boys. His old achievements enthrall as ever. But he makes no new conquests.
. . . It was inevitable, perhaps, that the prestige of the detective should fade in proportion as the business of detecting crime assumed a more specialized character.
. . . It was the creation of a personality supremely interested in the detection of crime which is due to [Edgar Allan] Poe, and even he hesitated to attach anything of a professional character to this novel species of hero.
. . . As first imagined, the detective stood outside and worked for the love of investigation. This disinterested and slightly amateurish character has hung round the great detective of romance ever since.
. . . It is curious to note the shifts to which the novelist has been put in the attempt to clothe his detective with a garment of disinterestedness.
. . . the honor of chaining attention rests after all with him who unties the knot, and if he [the detective] is merely a business person, paid by the job, a shadow of something sordid rests on the whole proceedings.
. . . sooner or later there comes a moment in all such cases when the reader cries off these self-ordained ministers of justice [i.e., amateur detectives]. . . . let the police do their own work.
. . . Thus it will be seen that the detective has to be a personage of peculiar type.
. . . the weak point of the deductive system is that every indication found is capable of bearing a dozen different interpretations. The ideal detective of romance pieces details together as a thought-reader divines things from the pressure of a hand. He detects not by virtue of simple powers of observation, but by a trained intuition amounting almost to second sight. . . . It is this which is working his decay. For—alas!—modern scientific methods have overtaken him, and he has fallen hopelessly behind the times.
. . . it is modern education, the relentless adaptation of means to an end, which has prepared his [the detective of fiction's] downfall.Among writers, stories, and characters mentioned in the article:
- Poe: Tales of Mystery.
- d'Artagnan: Le Vicomte de Bragelonne.
|d'Artagnan, amateur detective?|
- du Boisgobey: Crime de l'Opéra.
- Mary Eleanor Wilkins: The Long Arm.
- Anna Katherine Green: That Affair Next Door.
Category: Detective fiction criticism