Detective Fiction and the Ghost Story

Detective Fiction and the Ghost Story: The Haunted Text is the first full-length study to concentrate on one of the central relationships in all popular genres, between detective fiction and the ghost story. It features works from many of the giants in both traditions including Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie, M. R. James, John Dickson Carr, Susan Hill and Tony Hillerman. The chapters in sequential order are:

1 Detecting the Ghost

2 Decoding the Past: Narrative and Inquiry in ‘The Musgrave Ritual’ and ‘The Treasure of Abbot Thomas

3 Out of the Past: Retribution and Conan Doyle’s Double Narratives

4 ‘… That Forbidding Moor’: The Hound of the Baskervilles, a Ghost Story?

5 Agatha Christie’s Harlequinade: The ‘Bi-Part’ Soul of the Detective

6 John Dickson Carr’s Golden Age Gothic: The Locked Room Mystery and the Ghost Story

7 Rebus’s Edinburgh Palimpsest: The Spirits of the Place

8 Susan Hill’s Lost Hearts: The Woman in Black and the Serrailler Novels

9 Tony Hillerman’s Cultural Metaphysics

The book has been conceived as both a series of stand-alone essays which also possess interlinked themes and a broadly common conclusion. What emerges is a surprising picture of a long and influential association which has had a major effect on the development of detective fiction, in particular. One explanation for this relationship is the fact that both genres have a common root in Gothic literature – many of the features now familiar in classic detective fiction the locked room, violent crime, macabre mystery and remote setting emanate from this source. Crucially, also present in the Gothic tradition is the idea of the supernatural; so from these disparate themes and a shared source the Ghost Story and Detective Fiction grew in parallel.

What Detective Fiction and the Ghost Story aims to reveal are the points where these parallel lines converge, something which happens frequently throughout their history. For instance, the reading of The Hound of the Baskervilles is an original approach to this famous story seen from a supernatural perspective. Try, as I have done, reading The Hound of the Baskervilles as a ghost story, discover its subtleties and myriad of sub-texts; you will be amazed at the different perspective it gives to this famous story.

The exchange between the two forms is present too in Susan Hill’s The Woman in Blackand the Simon Serrailler novels, where the vengeance of the wronged woman in the former is skilfully transferred into two of the latter novels; while Ian Rankin manages to invoke the ghost-haunted city of Edinburgh as a counterpart to his detective, Rebus. Still further Tony Hillerman’s novels about the Navajo people of the South-western United States show the importance of cultural tradition in the realm of the supernatural and its relationship with the secular law. So having researched this book and read the texts from an entirely new standpoint I shall never quite be able to view detective fiction in the same way again – what about you?

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