Western Crime Fiction Goes East

The Russian Pinkerton Craze 1907-1934


This book examines the staggering popularity of early-twentieth-century Russian detective serials. Traditionally maligned as “Pinkertonovshchina,” these appropriations of American and British detective stories featuring Nat Pinkerton, Nick Carter, Sherlock Holmes, Ethel King, and scores of other sleuths swept the Russian reading market in successive waves between 1907 and 1917, and famously experienced a “red” resurgence in the 1920s under the aegis of Nikolai Bukharin. The book presents the first holistic view of “Pinkertonovshchina” as a phenomenon, and produces a working model of cross-cultural appropriation and reception. The “red Pinkerton” emerges as a vital “missing link” between pre- and post-Revolutionary popular literature, and marks the fitful start of a decades-long negotiation between the regime, the author, and the reading masses.
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Biographical Note

Boris Dralyuk received his Ph.D. (2011) in Slavic Languages and Literatures from UCLA, where he is now a Lecturer. He has published work on various topics in Russian, Polish, and American literature, and works as a translator.

Review Quotes

"Boris Dralyuk’s Western Crime Fiction Goes East is an impressive and enormously enjoyable piece of literary and cultural analysis; [it] provides fascinating insights into the evolution of Russian-Soviet popular culture and is a significant and striking addition to the current critical focus on cross-cultural crime fiction."
Lee Horsley, Lancaster University (http://www.crimeculture.com/?page_id=4215)

“The Red Pinkerton, long limited to walk-on parts in Soviet cultural studies, is finally the star of its own monograph. Prior research into this unique subgenre of Soviet pulp fiction has been insightful but frustratingly piecemeal. [...] Boris Dralyuk’s definitive survey of the ‘Russian Pinkerton craze’ consolidates, expands and enhances recent scholarship through a wideranging, engrossing investigation of early twentieth-century sources.”
Muireann Maguire, University of Exeter (Slavonic and East European Review v. 92, no. 3)

“By the early 1930s the effort to generate communist alternatives to boulevard serials was widely judged to have been a failure, despite a few notable exceptions and the production of films from them […] Despite their failure, however, Dralyuk asserts that the experiment should not be written off as a simple curiosity of the NEP era. Arguing that parody is a means of engaging with, while separating from, an artistic progenitor, he sees the red Pinkertons as a critical stage in the evolution of socialist realism rather than as a literary dead end. […] Dralyuk has presented a well-researched and entertaining analysis that redeems the red Pinkerton as an important, albeit unsuccessful, episode in Soviet cultural history.”
T. Clayton Black, Washington College, in The NEP Era: Soviet Russia 1921-1928, vol. 7.

" 'Western Crime Fiction Goes East' is an ambitious and wide-ranging work, but an eminently readable one [...] a highly readable book for general academic audiences, its appeal will likely be greatest among those with more than a passing interest in revolutionary Russian culture and literature. 'Western Crime Fiction Goes East' may not resolve the ongoing and often contentious relationship between genre and ideology, but the intriguing historical example it presents has the potential to inspire wider applications and further investigations into the subject."
Zachary Hoskins, University of Missouri – Kansas City in Journal of Popular Culture, February 2014

“В своем полном увлекательных отступлений повествовании Дралюк использует историю "пинкертоновщины" как повод, дающий возможность воссоздать целостную картину изучаемой эпохи. “Так никогда и не признанный официальной критикой жанр, резюмирует Дралюк, оказывается исключительно плодотворным, хотя и забытым звеном в истории популярной советской лите-ратуры, и этой книгой автор возвращает ему заслуженное место в отечественной культуре.”
М. Костионова/M. Kostionova in Новое литературное обозрение/ New Literary Observer, June 2014.
(fullreview text: http://www.nlobooks.ru/node/4861)

Table of contents

List of Illustrations


Chapter 1 – “As Many Street Cops as Corners”: Displacing 1905
in the Pinkertons

Chapter 2 – A Terrible Vengeance: The “Avenger Detective” in Russia

Chapter 3 – Slumming Littérateurs and Starving Students
The Pinkertons’ Purported Authors

Chapter 4 – The Persistence of Pinkertons: Reception Before and
After the Revolution

Chapter 5 – The Red Pinkerton’s Rise: Bukharin and the Komsomol

Chapter 6 – How the Mess Was Mended: Marietta Shaginian and Red

Chapter 7 – The Novel, the Film, and the Kinoroman: Parody and the
Decline of the Red Pinkerton

Chapter 8 – The Question of Genre and the Pinkertons’ Legacy



All those interested in popular genres, crime fiction, popular culture in the Russian Empire, Soviet literature, the dynamics of adaptation and cultural appropriation.