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Twentieth-Century Crime Fiction

Gender, Sexuality and the Body

Gill Plain

Paperback (Printed to Order)

Twentieth-Century Crime Fiction is an illuminating and challenging critical study of this ever popular genre.

In the book Gill Plain uses contemporary theories of gender and sexuality to challenge the dominant perception of crime fiction as a conservative genre. The rise of lesbian detection and the impact of serial killing are considered alongside detailed analyses of works by popular writers such as Agatha Christie, Raymond Chandler, Dick Francis and Sara Paretsky.

Beginning with a radical reconceptualisation of genre categories, the book goes on to consider recent revisions and reappropriations of the form. The final section focuses on textual pleasure and the destabilising of genre boundaries, raising the timely question of whether the queering of crime fiction represents a revitalising paradigm shift or the conceptual collapse of the genre.

  • The first substantial critical work on twentieth-century crime from a gender perspective
  • Provides in-depth textual analysis often missing from studies of popular fiction
  • Reappraises the framework within which crime fiction might be studied and taught
  • Sets key 'canonical' crime writers alongside both radical innovators and best-selling populists of the genre


1. Introduction: Criminal Desires
Part I - Establishing Paradigms
2. Sacrificial Bodies: The Corporeal Anxieties of Agatha Christie
3. When Violet Eyes are Smiling: The Love Stories of Raymond Chandler
Part II - The 'Normal Science' of Detection
4. Dividing the Men from the Boys: Joseph Hansen's Economy of the Same
5. Wounded Masculinity and the Homosocial Bond: Fathers and Lovers in the Novels of Dick Francis
6. V. I. Warshawski and the Little Red Shoes: Sara Paretsky's Feminist Fairy Tales
7. Passing/Out: The Paradoxical Possibilities of Detective Delafield
Part III - Shifting Paradigms
8. Out of Order: Lesbian Detection and Textual Pleasures
9. Consuming the Boundaries of Crime: Serial Killing and the Taste for Violence
10. Postscript: The Death of the Detective?

About the Author

Gill Plain is Professor of English at the University of St Andrews. She has published extensively on twentieth-century popular culture, crime fiction, gender, sexuality and the writing of the two world wars. Her previous books include John Mills and British Cinema (Edinburgh 2006), Twentieth-Century Crime Fiction: Gender, Sexuality and the Body (Edinburgh, 2001), and Women’s Fiction of the Second World War (Edinburgh, 1996).


Gill Plain's discerning and scholarly overview of gender issues in 20th-century crime fiction concentrates largely on six authors - Agatha Christie, Raymond Chandler, Joseph Hansen, Dick Francis, Sara Paretsky and Katherine V Forrest. … Plain's Freudian approach has enabled her to achieve what would appear impossible. Incredibly, she has found something new to say about Sara Paretsky, who is surely the most over-analysed living exponent of feminist crime fiction. Her analysis of Paretsky's work…develops a set of fascinating cultural resonances. Dick Francis's novels are also subjected to a searching Freudian analysis, covering such unexpected topics as homosociality, multiple otherness, Oedipal strictures and the fantasy of the secret self. The result is intriguing and thought-provoking … this is an impressive scholarly work which will be of immense value to students of crime fiction. Plain offers many fascinating new insights into a genre which has all too often been dismissed as trivial by short-sighted critics
- European Journal of English Studies
This is an impressive scholarly work which will be of immense value to students of the genre.
- The Dorothy L Sayers Society Bulletin