The publications of police detectives 1880 - 1930: Genre, identity and the consumption of crime

Lead Research Organisation: University of Birmingham
Department Name: English Drama American and Canadian Stu


Haia Shpayer-Makov identifies 69 publications authored by retired British police detectives between 1829 and 1981; of these, 56 were released in the period 1880-1930. These decades saw an explosion in crime fiction, and so publications by retired police detectives peaked as they sought to capitalise on the boom.
Yet, their works also exhibit a blend of genres and offer a riposte to the figure of the detective forged in contemporary crime fiction. This PhD will address the relationship between the real and fictional police detective by exploring works such as James Bent's Criminal Life: Reminiscences of Forty-Two Years as a
Police Officer (1891) and Basil Thomson's Queer People (1922). My thesis will be shaped by three research questions.

First, how do these works enhance our understanding of the consumption of crime literature as entertainment, by expanding on fiction, such as golden age detective novels, and non-fiction, such as the Notable Trials series? For example, how did the texts challenge reader expectations by eschewing the established whodunit format? Second, how does the use of fiction complicate the genre of these outwardly autobiographical works? This will build upon my MA dissertation where I concluded three texts by retired detectives were examples of autobiografiction, a genre defined in 1906 by Stephen Reynolds as one in which the three converging lines [of] autobiography, fiction, and the essay meet. Finally, as these memoirists often offer a direct riposte to the figure of the detective in popular crime fiction, how do they seek to modify this image and efface their own individuality by identifying as part of the police institution? I will examine how the authors construct the image of a quasi-military adventurer operating in a domestic sphere against his enemy, crime. As such, my research will seek to understand how the authors' explicit engagement with wider genres in popular literature further complicates concepts of individuality and interiority in life-writing.


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