The Art of the Mystery Story (1946) ed. by Howard Haycraft

Recently I have finished reading this collection of essays on detective fiction written by a variety of different people including critics and writers of this genre. It included a lot of factual information about the genre itself and its origins. However two things stood out for me. The first one was a piece entitled: ‘Murder on Parnassus’ by Pierre Very, where he poses a world where every school subject is taught using crime fiction and its tropes. Examples of such lessons include:
• Geometry class – ‘Given a closed space in the form of an isosceles triangle, ABC, and another closed space Z in form of a hexagon MNOPQR. Find…’
• Physics class – ‘If you have a safe covered with armoured plate X millimetres thick and a blow torch whose power is b, find the time necessary to make around the lock a circular aperture leaving a diameter of…
• P.E. – ‘The exercise consists in climbing up to a window two yards above the ground without leaving any traces…’
This caught my attention and I wondered what other lessons centred on crime fiction you could think of? Personally with the high level of poisonings within crime fiction I would be very wary of cookery class and chemistry for that matter.
The second thing which stood out for me was the way a number of male writers described the way women read or didn’t read detective fiction. For example H. Douglas Thomson in his essay, ‘Masters of Mystery’ suggests women are interested in the wider issues of the detective story such as religion, romance and social controversy rather than the intellectual puzzle presented and that thrillers were preferred as women apparently ‘delight in emotional values’. Judge Lynch in his piece the ‘Battle of the Sexes: The Judge and His Wife Look at Mysteries’ proposes that women prefer crime novels with “nice” people in, who you would invite around for tea. Moreover, according to Judge Lynch women prefer psychological mysteries and only like puzzle mysteries if they are interested in the characters. Equally, women are supposed to hate loose ends at the end of a story and like a ‘whiff of the supernatural’. Whilst Harrison R. Steeves in ‘A Sober Word on the Detective story,’ whose piece is probably the most gender stereotypical likens women’s apparent frequent dislike of detective fiction to their terror of the mystery of car engines and their indignation of the mess nearby power stations make of their newly hung out washing. Conversely, he suggests men like detective fiction more in the way they apparently find it interesting to figure out how cars and power stations work. To me, a female and big reader of crime fiction these ideas unsurprisingly seem antiquated and inaccurate. However, they did make me ponder whether there are any genuine gender differences in the way men and women read or choose crime fiction. Thoughts any one?

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