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December 12, 2021


#Non-fiction The Figure of the Detective

by N@ncy

  • Author: Charles Brownson
  • Title: The Figure of the Detective
  • Published: 2014  (216 pg)
  • Purchased: 30 April, 2015
  • Genre: non-fiction
  • Monthly plan
  • #MountTBR Challenge  (01/100)


  1. Why is the figure of a detective a cultural icon?
  2. It emerged from a culture of mass literacy, popular media and class difference.


  1. How is the existence and changes in the this genre driven by social change?
  2. The genre is driven by PUBLIC TASTE and the reader’s changed values.


  1. How has the genre changed?
  2. The classic English detective (cozy, rural settings)
  3. Noir —> morally dark, streaked with emotion and violence
  4. Noir had a short life and the genre broke down into several forms:
  5. Hard-boiled (urban setting)  anti-Hero in a world of Black-and-Gray Morality.
  6. Spys,  Thrillers and
  7. Neoclassic (mixture Hammett’s/Chandler’s hard-boiled and the spy story)


  1. Why does the detective story at particular times such a popular broad appeal?
  2. The task of investigation and resolution is comforting!’


  1. Why are we entertained by the reading about detective that is beyond simple entertainment?
  2. The essence of success is CF’s  recipe for production
  3. …able to supply readers with more of the same.


  1. How does this long-lived, very popular and important sort of fiction work?
  2. A feel good plot intended to assure people that truth is knowable.


Personal notes:

  1. One of the first books I can remember was the series of Nancy Drew Mysteries.
  2. I was  probably enticed to read them b/c my name is also Nancy!
  3. But I read all the books and played the ND mystery board game constantly.
  4. I want to discover what the attraction was…
  5. …why I was so enthralled with this series, the detective genre.
  6. Result: it seems even at that young age I was thrilled as
  7. …the pages flew by, justice got done and
  8. …the bad people got what was coming to them!


Least interesting chapters:  nr 2, 6, 7 (…the book fizzled out)

  1. Sherlock Holmes…not my kind of detective.
  2. Mr. Brownson…was too long-winded, philosophical in
  3. …the last two chapters.
  4. There were just a few examples mentioned of neo-classic detectives.


What can a detective story be about?

  1. False accusations
  2. False identity
  3. Murder
  4. Dangers of love
  5. Strong feeling of class
  6. Locked-room mystery – the thrill of setting up a fiendish crime,
  7. and challenging the reader to solve it. (puzzle)
  8. 21st C the reader is tired of puzzles.
  9. Readers demand rounded characters and plots with some
  10. Psychological complexity, a dash of fate and
  11. a whiff of uncertain self-knowledge on the part of the detective.
  12. In fact  many of these features are found in literary novels!


How has CF  changed?

  1. Greatest change is the advancements in science and technology!
  2. Plot changes are required from the “classic detective”.
  3. Now we are confronted with computers,
  4. …DNA forensics and digital communications (cell-phones).
  5. Police/detectives have a private life and it is an integral part of the CF novel.


How do detectives work?

  1. The detective does not  discover anything.
  2. It is revealed to him when he presses in the right place.
  3. Confessons (..sometimes forced!)  (Mr. Gryce, Anna Green’s books)
  4. Evidence to validate claims
  5. Deduction (aka cool knowledge)  (Holmes)
  6. Smoke out the true villain…by pointing to an innocent person as  the killer.
  7. NOT looking at the subject of interest (Gryce, Bucket, Cuff, Lecoq)
  8. Disguises (Lecoq)
  9. “The soft walk”  to lull criminals into a false sense of security by playing dumb  (Colombo)
  10. Colombo: “…Just one last thing.”
  11. “Using the little gray cells” (clues and speculation) (Poirot)
  12. Poirot: ” Ah, mon ami! How could I have been so stupid”
  13. Psychological investigations  (aka warm knowledge)
  14. …observes from a distance (Maigret)
  15. Maigret: “Comprendre et ne pas juger



  1. The book did spark my interest in reading CF.
  2. I enjoyed reading how the detective genre evolved
  3. …driven by social change.
  4. Good book to browse through if you
  5. …see it in the library.
  6. I’m sure there are better reference books out there!
Read more from Uncategorized
2 Comments Post a comment
  1. tracybham
    Dec 12 2021

    I am sure there are better reference books out there, but I would be interested in trying this some day. If I ever find a reasonably priced copy.


    • Dec 12 2021

      Look for it in the library….or in a book rummage sale.



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