detective story

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detective story:

see mysterymystery
or mystery story,
literary genre in which the cause (or causes) of a mysterious happening, often a crime, is gradually revealed by the hero or heroine; this is accomplished through a mixture of intelligence, ingenuity, the logical interpretation of evidence,
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Detective Story


a literary genre that includes fiction works whose plots center on the resolution of a mysterious crime, usually by a logical analysis of the facts. The basis of the conflict is most often the clash between justice and lawlessness, climaxing in the triumph of justice.

The originator of the genre is the American writer E. Poe (“The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” 1841, and other stories). The detective story assumed its familiar form by the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century in the works of W Collins (Great Britain), E. Gaboriau and G. Leroux (France), A. K. Green (USA), and especially A. C. Doyle (Great Britain), who created the popular private detective Sherlock Holmes. Two basic types of detective story plots developed: the intellectual, deriving from Poe and stressing the process of solving the problem, and the adventure, deriving from Collins and constructed on the build-up of dramatic episodes and often including new crimes.

The works of the British writers E. Wallace and D. L. Sayers, among others, played an important role in the further development of the detective story, as did those of G. K. Chesterton, who created the character of the “intuitive detective,” Father Brown. In most works of the first quarter of the 20th century, however, artificial situations and standard plots prevailed—R. A. Freeman and F. W. Crofts of Great Britain and S. S. Van Dine (pseudonym of W. Wright) and J. D. Carrof the USA.

Realistic elements and literary mastery characterize A. Christie’s (Great Britain) novels about the amateur detectives Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple and G. Simenon’s (France) stories about Inspector Maigret. D. Hammett introduced realistic motifs in the American detective story; he was followed by R. Chandler and R. Macdonald of the so-called hard-boiled school, which is not averse to sharp social criticism. Under their influence a type of “dynamic story” developed in the detective stories of the 1930’s and 1940’s, which combined realistic moments with plot clichés. Writers exemplifying this type include E. S. Gardner, R. Stout, E. Queen (the pseudonym of F. DanneyandM. B. Lee), and P. Quentin (the pseudonym of a group of writers) of the USA; J. Tey and M. Innes of Great Britain; and N. Marsh of New Zealand.

After World War II a great number of anti-intellectual detective stories emerged, devoid of social content. They are grouped in the so-called black school—the works of M. Spil-lane and C. Adams (USA) and I. Fleming’s (Great Britain) series about the superman-spy James Bond, glorifying violence and sex. In the mid-20th century, variations of the detective story became widespread. These include the crime novel (F. lies [pseudonym of A. Berkley] and J. G. Symons of Great Britain and P. Highsmith of the USA); the spy thriller (E. Ambler and J. Le Carre [pseudonym of D. Cornwell] of Great Britain); and the police novel (E. McBain of the USA). In addition, detective plots in a science fiction setting emerged (I. Asimov of the USA).

The founders of the Soviet detective story were A. N. Tolstoy (The Hyperboloid of Engineer Garin) and M. Shaginian (Mess-Mend). The spy theme prevailed at first. After the war, works about militiamen (A. Adamov, Iu. Semenov) and counterintelligence workers (R. Kim) and science fiction stories with detective plots emerged alongside the detective story proper (L. Sheinin).

The best detective stories are characterized by a realistic treatment of daily life, psychology, social relations, and conflicts; by a romanticized presentation of events and characters; and by absorbing intellectual play. They are based on the rationalistic conviction of the power of reason and affirm the triumph of law and order over social evil.


Toman, N. “Chto takoe detektivnaia literatura?” In the collection O fantastike i prikliucheniiakh. O literature dlia detei, fasc. 5. Leningrad, 1960.
“Detektiv: i sotsial’nost’, i khudozhestvennost’.”; Literaturnaia gazeta, Jan. 19, 1972.
Hay croft, H. Murder for Pleasure. New York-London, 1943.
Pfeiffer, H. Die Mumie im Glassarg. Rudolfstadt, 1960.
Maver, W. Krimi und Crimen. Halle [1967].
Škvorecky, I. Nápady čtenaře detektivek. Prague, 1965.
Rainov, V. Cherniiat roman. Sofia, 1970.
Barzun, J., and W. H. Taylor. A Catalogue of Crime. New York, 1971.


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