Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Detective Fiction

Eugene Peterson, in his Take &Read (Spiritual Reading: An Annotated List) devotes a whole chapter to mysteries. Detective fiction can be a pleasurable pastime, but it also has its edifying qualities as well. There is something to be said for a whole genre devoted to exposing truth and unraveling confusing realities. (Maybe it is just the ultimate “Modern” genre of literature; the idea that everything can be divined and discovered through simple observation and deduction.)

As a genre, detective fiction traces it roots to Edgar Allan Poe’s The Murders in the Rue Morgue. In this story Poe created many of the hallmarks of detection: the amazing sleuth with super powers of deduction, the less observant friend who narrates the story, and the puzzling case to be solved. C. Auguste Dupin is the name of Poe’s sleuth, and he appears in two more stories (The Mystery of Marie Roget and The Purloined Letter) all written in the 1840s. The main downfall of these stories, especially compared to later examples, is that the plot in all of them is relatively simple and the majority of the exposition is devoted to EXAUSTING analysis of the clues and what they reveal. Poe must have been paid by the word.

The worldview of detective fiction is ultimately black and white. Evil is exposed and punished, and truth wins out in the end. People can scheme and plan for the perfect crime, but the detective will find the truth because the criminal will always make a mistake. The methods of detection will differ from sleuth to sleuth, but good overcomes evil. That does not mean that it is a “good” world. Evil and sin are everywhere and danger abounds.

Sort of like the real world.

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