Perspective and Stereotype in Western Detective Novels

The writer examines novels by Agatha Christie and Joseph Conrad, and discusses characters and scenes in light of prejudices the authors may have held, bringing as evidence Chinese (non-Western) detective novels.

We can also see the kind of xenophobic stereotypes that Christie used when we compare her works to detective fiction taken from an entirely different cultural tradition: When we think about the detective novel, we are most likely to see in our mind?s eye Sherlock Holmes?s deerstalker cap or hear the Belgian accents of Hercule Poirot. The genre of detective fiction ? with its traditional elements of the seemingly perfect crime, the wrongly accused suspect at whom circumstantial evidence points (in many cases, the bungling of the dim-witted police (in opposition to the cleverness of the private operator), the astonishing powers of observation and superior mind of the detective, and a startling and unexpected denouement (quite likely taking place in a parlor) in which the detective reveals how the identity of the culprit was ascertained ? seems a quintessentially Western concept.

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