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Detective Fiction[1]

Detective Fiction[1]

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Published by Dean Movshovitz

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Published by: Dean Movshovitz on Jan 17, 2011
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Ethical deviations on the hard-boiled detective in Sarah Paresky's "Grace Notes"
In this essay I will examine the presence of the ethical elements of thearchetypical detective stories, as described by Brendan Riley in his essay"From Sherlock to Angel: The Twenty-First Century Detective", in the shortstory "Grace notes" by Sarah Paretsky. Riley mentions two significant phasesin the development of detective fiction: the classical and the hard-boiled.Riley lists two significant Criteria for differentiating them, which are relevantto the subject of this essay:1. The method employed by the detective. According to Riley, theclassical detective uses ratiocination and intellect (909), whereas the “hard-boiled detectives operate more on gut instinct and happenstance. SamSpade travels from place to place, […] often happening upon an event thathelps move his case along.” (912). Because of their heroes` differentmethods, the hard-boiled narratives developed more adventurous pattern(910). Holmes could solve a case almost entirely from his chair, where asMarlowe will have to wander through all of L. A. before he`s through. As aresult, the very character of the detective changes: “Where classical
detectives operate in a detached, scientific way, hardboiled detectivesinvestigate because they care about their clients;" (909). However, if thehard-boiled doesn`t display the analytical prowess of his classic predecessor,what is his special talent? According to Riley, "the [hard-boiled] detective’svirtue (along with quick wits and righteousness) might be the only card hehold.” (909-10). Holmes solves crime very much to his own amusement andeven vanity, displaying his abilities and finding order in a seemingly chaoticsituation. If society and justice benefit, well, that`s almost just a bonus. Thehardboiled detectives` motives are more ethical, ideological even, a notionthat is reflected in the more personal and risky way they solve theirmysteries.2. The social meaning of the solution of the crime. While both types of detective stories feature the comeuppance of criminals, the nature of thecriminal element differs significantly:Classical detective stories ‘‘aestheticize’’ crime, making a chaoticmoment into an artistic puzzle. They also attribute crimes to individuals,an important psychic salve for middle-class readers concerned with therising rate of crime in urban centers (98 – 104). Classical detectivestories reenforce notions of individual responsibility, rational thought,and crime. They eschew social explanations for crime in favor of individual ones. (909)
 The Hardboiled detective gives us a grittier and more complicated view of society:Instead of tracing the criminal activity to a single individual, hard-boileddetectives find themselves uncovering more and more mysteries […]finally, the track leads back to the rich and respectable levels of societyand exposes the corrupt relationship between the pillars of thecommunity and the criminal underground. (909) The hard-boiled detective despises the rich, scoffs at petty criminals anddistrusts authorities, yet he must interact and even cooperate with all of them at one point or another. Thus, the hard-boiled detective presents amore unsettling view of society and human nature. As Riley puts it: "Marlowebolsters the notion of individual morality standing against a corrupt culture."(910).Riley continues to link these phases with the technologicaldevelopments of the era, as well as analyze the effect of new technologieson current detective narrative, using the television show "Angel" as his casestudy. These themes will not be discussed in this paper. Instead, I willattempt to analyze the way in which "Grace Notes" differs from the twoaforementioned phases of detective fiction, and try to venture as to whatthese deviations mean.

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