COMMENT: About “Only Detect”

24 Mar

A few quick notes (to be included in the “About” page) on what I’m doing at this site:

Here you’ll find reviews of books—most of them detective novels—that I have read over the years. I will be posting them according to no particular logic and in no specific order. My choice of books to read follows no particular logic, either. Clue-driven puzzle mysteries (think Agatha Christie) and attitude-driven hard-boiled tales (think Dashiell Hammett) appeal to me equally. I do gravitate toward older books, and toward books set in “olden” times: “History” and “mystery,” I believe, rhyme in more ways than one. But I also dip into recent works fairly often.

PinkertonLogo.jpgIf there’s a common denominator to my reading tastes, it’s my attraction to detection, by which I mean: the work of trying to find the otherwise hidden truth behind a series of events. At its best, detection as a literary trope highlights the romance of reason, the drama of discovery, the struggle for a solution to the mysteries of life and death. A detective story, as distinct from a thriller or a tale of mystery and suspense, places at its center a detective—a figure whose quest for knowledge, rooted either in passion or in professional necessity, drives the narrative forward toward a conclusion.

The title of this blog, “Only Detect,” is meant to echo a famous dictum of the novelist E.M. Forster: “Only connect.” In this play on words, too, there is reason as well as rhyme. What, after all, does a detective fundamentally do? He or she connects those proverbial dots—call them “clues”—that others have failed to connect. When Sherlock Holmes probes the dark corners of Victorian England that lie shrouded in propriety (no less than in fog), when Philip Marlowe walks his mean streets (without himself being mean), they might not connect emotionally with people in the way that Forster had in mind. But they heal the disconnections that trouble us all in other ways.

Without getting too pretentious about it, then, I hope that these reviews push back some against the common idea that a detective story is “only a detective story.”

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Posted by on March 24, 2010 in Commentary


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