Narratives of Enclosure is the first full-length study of the locked room mystery; it argues that the idea of enclosure is fundamental to the entire detective genre. This is manifest by the homogenous nature of its narrative structure, language and imagery. The locked room is both a physical and cerebral concept with its own discrete linguistic notions of enclosure which corresponds to the embracement of the narrative itself in which the investigation of a crime is framed within the story of the crime and its solution. This basic rubric underscores all conventional detective fiction and its constant repetition accounts for the critical reaction to the genre as being formulaic. The core of my approach is textual analysis; from such readings I argue, the interaction of structural, linguistic and thematic elements can be seen at its clearest.
The chapters, in order of sequence, are:
- Edgar Allan Poe and the Detective Story Narrative
- The Locked Compartment: Charles Dickens’s The Signalman and Enclosure in the Railway Mystery Story
- The Body in the Library: Reading the Locked Room in Anna Katherine Green’s The Filigree Ball
- G.K. Chesterton’s Enclosure of Orthodoxy in The Wrong Shape
- The Hollow Text: Illusion as Theme in John Dickson Carr’s The Hollow Man
- Jorge Luis Borges and the Labyrinth of Detection
- The Question is the Writer Himself: Paul Auster’s Locked Room in the City of Glass
- The Narrative of Enclosure
The works I have used are deliberately wide-ranging; beginning with the Poe’s inaugural detective story ‘The Murders in the Rue Morgue’, which, coincidentally is a locked room mystery placing the form at the very beginning of the genre. Many of the ideas of enclosure in the detective story emanate from this single text. By contrast, Charles Dickens’s ‘The Signalman’ is primarily a ghost story but one which has also been anthologized in collections of detective fiction. It is the perfect study for a psychoanalytical approach to the human psyche as a locked room and the nature of guilt, subjects repeated time and again in the detective canon. Both Anna Katherine Green and G. K. Chesterton develop the conventional form; Green bringing many of the characteristics we now associate with detective fiction, the sketch plan, the letter and the body in the library, while Chesterton introduces the metaphysical subject of religion. John Dickson Carr’s The Hollow Man is as central to the conventional detective story as it gets, written during the interwar period, the so-called Golden Age of the genre it is quite simply one of the most celebrated texts of its type. Towards the end of the book comes the metaphysical detective story, presaged by Chesterton and through some of Carr’s metafictional references, where the adherence to a prescribed formulaic structure is challenged and subverted in the works of Borges and Auster.