By Peter Thoms
“Detection and Its Designs provides a number of rich insights on the nature of detective fiction as a genre in which narratives collide and compete for power.”
Lisa Surridge, Letters in Canada
“Interesting insight into the interpretation of the detective story from its earliest origins…These writers would have been flattered to receive such a detailed interpretation of their works.”
Andrew Gasson, George Eliot-George Henry Lewes Studies
Detective fiction is usually thought of as genre fiction, a vast group of works bound together by their use of a common formula. But, as Peter Thoms argues in his investigation of some of the most important texts in the development of detective fiction in the nineteenth century, the very works that establish the genre's formulaic structure also subvert that structure. Detection and Its Designs reads early detective fiction as a self-conscious form that is suspicious of the detective it ostensibly celebrates, and critical of the authorial power he wields in attempting to reconstruct the past and script a narrative of the crime.
In readings of Godwin's Caleb Williams, Poe's Dupin stories, Dickens's Bleak House, Collins's The Moonstone, and Doyle's The Hound of the Baskervilles, Thoms argues that the detective's figurative writing emerges out of a desire to exert control over others and sometimes over himself.
Detection and Its Designs demonstrates that, far from being a naïve form, early detective fiction grapples with the medium of storytelling itself. To pursue these inward-turning fictions is to uncover the detective's motives of controlling the representation of both himself and others, a discovery that in turn significantly undermines the authority of his solutions.
Peter Thoms teaches at both King's College and the University of Western Ontario. He is the author of The Windings of the Labyrinth: Quest and Structure in the Major Novels of Wilkie Collins (Ohio, 1992). More info →
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