Friday, January 07, 2011

Detective Fiction: From Victorian Sleuths to the Present

Narrated by Prof. M. Lee Alexander of the College of William and Mary
Produced by The Modern Scholar (2010)
Rating: 4.5

In a series of lectures, Alexander presents a history of detective fiction, covering all the subgenres, from amateur (Simon Brett, Diane Mott Davidson) to hard-boiled (Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler), and from espionage (Eric Ambler, John LeCarre, Tom Clancy) and legal (John Mortimer, John Grisham) to medical and forensic (Robin Cook, Patricia Cornwell, Kathy Reichs). She also talks about historical detective fiction (Josephine Tey, Bruce Alexander), women detectives (P.D. James, Sue Grafton, Sara Paretsky), police procedurals (Ed McBain, Elizabeth George), as well as international and ethnic detectives.

In addition to all these and more authors, Alexander discusses the role detective fiction plays, as it provides commentary and criticism on the society, times and culture it reflects. A scholar who has talked about this subject before, she makes the connections between Sherlock Holmes and one of her favorite programs, House, M.D. We also get a look at current trends: detectives with disabilities (such as TV’s Monk), ecomysteries and irresolution (not only is the resolution unclear, but there’s confusion as to what justice might be in the case).

In short, Alexander covers a lot of territory. If you want an in-depth look at one genre, this is not it -- this is an overall, somewhat quick, look at detective fiction. But for an overview, it is very good, both entertaining and instructional.

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