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Detective Fiction: Crime And Compromise

Detective Fiction: Crime And Compromise - Dick Allen, Allen R. Stanley "Detective Fiction: Crime and Compromise" by Dick Allen and David Chacko from 1974, is an anthology apparently intended for a college class on detective and mystery fiction—or as it states in the Preface, "a form of popualr fiction that is forever concerned with the basic questions of 'right' and 'wrong' in human behavior."

Allen and Chacko included short stories, selected passages from novels, two poems, and a final section of essays by writers in the genre, organized into four sections: Manifestations, The Detective, The Genre Extended and Theories. Each selection is followed by analytical questions, and there also an appendix with topics for writing and research, a bibliography and some suggestions for further reading. Something I also appreciated from the Preface: "The genre as a whole has too long been ignored in the classroom."

The first section is designed to give an overall perspective on some metaphysical questions regarding the genre, and Allen and Chacko chose an unusual opening, Robert Frost's poem "Design," which poses an initial question about the presence of evil and horror in the world. Just to show that the definition of crime fiction can cast a wide net, the section also includes Ernest Hemingway, Graham Greene, Robert Louis Stevenson, Robert Browning and Agatha Christie.

The section on the Detective is a good overall overview of the topic, while The Genre Extended casts the net even wider to demonstrate how the element of "detection" operates in all forms of literature like "The Tree of Knowledge" by Henry James. And, as the editors point out, Ross Macdonald and Dashiell Hammett demonstrate how the gap between pure detection stories and "literary" fiction narrowed. The final section, Theories, begins with Dorothy L. Sayers' examination of the genre's history and winds its way to Fred P. Graham's essay, "A Contemporary History of American Crime." It also includes the Raymond Chandler essay "The Simple Art of Murder."

Although I wasn't able to find much on how well the book was received by student readers, this near 40-year-old book is among the first to give crime fiction the respect it is rightfully due. An interesting side note: one of the editors, Dick Allen, is primarily a poet who became Connecticut State Poet Laureate in 2010, and I find it interesting he chose this topic as one of only a few nonfiction books he has published. But then, the very best crime fiction has poetry at its heart, one reason perhaps that "Esquire "called George Pelecanos "the poet laureate of D.C. crime."