Friday, December 5, 2014

Defending the Detective Story

"In Defense of the Detective Story."
By Arthur B. Reeve (1880-1936).
First appearance: The Independent, 10 July 1913.
Online (HERE).
In an article from a hundred years ago, the author of the Craig Kennedy series defended his chosen field. A few excerpts:
. . . The fact of the matter is that there are two kinds of fiction which every generation reads with avidity—the love story and the mystery story. If all the world loves a lover, so does all the world look with interest and curiosity on the criminal and the detective who traps him. To the normal mind, the crook and captor are always alluring.
. . . An odd point, as someone once remarked in the New York Times, about the entrance of the detective into American literature is the fact that an American took him to France and the French writers sent him back to the land of his birth.
. . . Poe's Dupin is the father of Sherlock Holmes; his "analytical reasoning" is the forerunner of "deduction." If we re-imported Poe in the vastly inferior form of the dime novel from France, we re-imported him in a vastly better form as Sherlock Holmes from England.
. . . a society was recently organized in Germany to discourage the publication and sale of the "Nick Carter" and other stories for the express reason that they were said to increase crime by suggestion, if not by direct incitement.
. . . One may agree heartily with the unsparing critics of the dime novel and still disagree even more heartily with those who would condemn also the modern detective story as it appears from the presses of the hosts of reputable publishers.
. . . It is often the other elements (besides the high literary quality) that various writers add to detective stories which should be the saving grace even in the eyes of the sharpest critics. Law, justice, and the right triumph in ninety-nine stories out of a hundred of this class, which is a higher average than can be set by any detective bureau in actual life.
. . . The fact is that the whole field of science lies open to be drawn on by the clever detective—from fingerprints, the portrait parlé, the dictagraph and detectaphone, to chemistry and physics in general. Not long ago an astronomer freed an innocent man by calculating the exact date on which a photograph was taken, using the shadows to guide him.
. . . Whatever may be said of the cheap crime story, whatever may be said of the crime story of the past—and even that must be read with a sack of salt handy—it remains to be shown that the detective story as it ordinarily appears today is a force for evil. Much more often it serves a decided moral purpose.  . . . It is at least an even chance that a good detective story will help the detective as much as it will the criminal.
- More about Arthur B. Reeve and scientific crime fighting is HERE.

Category: Detective fiction criticism

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