Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Narratives of Enclosure

A brand new study of the locked room mystery has just been published – the first of its kind. The title is Narratives of Enclosure in Detective Fiction, the author Michael Cook, and the publisher Palgrave Macmillan. It’s an expensive book, like so many academic texts, but I decided to treat myself.

In fact, the book is not quite what I expected, for a number of reasons. The author’s starting point is interesting. He suggests that Poe’s “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” set a pattern for detective fiction with an emphasis on “enclosures, death and references to sequestered lives”. So although there is quite a bit of focus on Golden Age fiction, when – most people would accept, I think – the locked room mystery was in its hey-day, the book includes extensive discussion of some stories that one wouldn’t really associate with the locked room sub-genre. A key example is that splendid Charles Dickens story, “The Signalman”.

Seven of the eight chapters focus predominantly on specific authors. The obvious candidates, G.K. Chesterton and John Dickson Carr, are among them. But so too are Dickens, Anna Katherine Green, Jorge Luis Borges and Paul Auster. This eclectic and surprising mix offers much food for thought.

A possible criticism of the book is that, at times, there seems to be almost as much discussion of academic studies of crime fiction as there is about individual locked room mysteries. Some excellent locked room mysteries are not even mentioned – for instance, Rim of the Pit, by Hake Talbot.

However, perhaps it is unfair to focus too much on omissions. All books of this kind have to be selective; there is no alternative. This is a thought-provoking book, and although I don’t see it as truly definitive as a study of its subject, it’s well worth a look if you are keen on studies of crime fiction.


Margot Kinberg said...

Oh, Martin, you've got me intrigued! Even if it isn't as comprehensive as you might have dreamed, it does sound interesting. I'll have to check it out.

Martin Edwards said...

Let us know what you make of it, please, Margot!

Miranda James said...

Sounds like something I'll need to add to my collection of non-fiction on mysteries.

John said...

Thanks for this. I'm not much on academic studies of popular ficton. They can get way too eggheady for me and as you noted they tend to overlook the "obvious" books and writers of their intended subject. But I'll see if our library has pruchased a copy. I'm not going to plunk down the cash for it since I doubt it will provide me with any new writers or books. Adey's bibliography LOCKED ROOM MURDERS is still the leading reference boko for this subgenre. I am still working my way through noteworthy titles. His is the type of book that is more suited for my reading purposes.

Martin Edwards said...

Yes, Bob Adey's book is in a class of its own - brilliant!