Approaches to detective fiction have often tended to confine them-selves to ‘symptomatic’ interpretation, where details of the fictional world represented are used to diagnose a specific set of social preoccupations and priorities operative at the time of writing. Such approaches can yield valuable insights. Nonetheless there is a risk of limiting the value of the genre as a whole solely to its role as a mirror held up to society. In this perspective, issues of structure and style are sidelined, or, if addressed, are praised to the extent that they approach invisibility — concision, spareness, realism are the qualities singled out for praise. The genre also gives much scope for formal innovation — and indeed has often attracted already established ‘mainstream’ writers and filmmakers for just this reason.
The eclectic diversity of the detective narratives considered in this volume reveal the malleability of the traditional constraints of the genre. The essays bear rich testimony to the value of considering the interplay of thematic and structural issues, even in the most apparently unselfconscious and popular (or populist) forms of narrative. The patterns of reassurance, the triumph of intellect and the ordered, rational world ‘of old’ are now challenged by the need to foreground the problems, ambiguities and uncertainties of the self and of society. The plurality of meanings and the antithetical imperatives explored in these detective narratives confirm that the most recent forms of the genre are not mere palimpsests of their ‘golden age’ precursors. The subversion of traditional expectations and the implementation of diverse stylistic devices take the genre beyond mere homage and pastiche. The role of the reader/spectator and critic in conferring meaning is a crucial one.