The University of Wisconsin Press

Popular Culture


Heroes and Humanities
Detective Fiction and Culture
Ray B. Browne

Popular Press

Mystery fiction, although essentially the same in all its national varieties, nevertheless comes in several types and several wrappings.

The present study of American, Australian and Canadian detective fiction concerns literature which speaks in the ways of heroes and humanities about the human condition. All authors studied here, to one degree or another, demonstrate their concern with human society, some more strongly than others, but all with their eyes on the human situation and human existence. At times these studies lean toward the tragic in their outlook and development. In all instances they center on the humanistic.


Yet all are writers of significant importance. Arthur Upfield, for example, is an author who towers above nearly all other writers of detective fiction. His Detective-Inspector Napoleon Bonaparte – called Bony – is one of the two or three more imaginatively conceived and appealing detectives in the literature of all countries. Ed Lacy and E.V. Cunningham also address the human situation with great concern. Others, like John Bell, represent a firm and competent hand in the development of philosophy of life. Hugh Pentecost, a person undeservedly lacking in criticism, is a master at writing the genre of regeneration through violence.


Four authors studied here represent “regionalism” in detective fiction at its very strongest. Few if any authors have done a more splendid job in the genre then Thomas B. Dewey. He is Midwest detective fiction at its very best.  So are Michael Z. Lewin (writing of Indianapolis and Indiana) and Jonathan Valin, anatomizing the area around Cincinnati, and the soul-world conflict becomes reality in the capable hands of Ralph McInerny, writing of the Chicago area. Martha Webb, Martha Grimes and George C. Chesbro, as well as Peter Coriss (from Australia) and Ted Wood (from Canada) come alive in this volume.


All the authors represented in this volume have been ignored or under-evaluated by detective fiction scholars in the past. All deserve more attention. All the books studied here represent the writers’ concern with the hero and his/her role in the humanities. These two aspects of our society provide the common thread which hold them together. The field of the humanities and detective-fiction continues to be one that interests and concerns many readers, not only for the skill with which the authors work but also for the importance of the subject matter itself. The authors and the subject deserve more attention.


At the time of publication, Ray B. Browne was chair of the department of popular culture at Bowling Green State University and secretary-treasurer of the Popular Culture Association and the American Culture Association. He is author and editor of some 30 books.

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Cover image is light blue with a brown and blue image of a man with a gun.

LC: 86-072643
150 pp. 6 x 9
ISBN 978-0-87972-370-5
Cloth $20.95 t
ISBN 978-0-87972-371-2
Paper $9.95 t

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Updated February 8, 2010

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