Dear all,

I would like to hear your opinions on religious elements in crime, respectively, crime, fiction:

How apparent are they?

  1. e.g. the detective as a saint-like figure with the power to bring redemption about the world within the story;
  2. the criminal as the scapegoat;
  3. the sacred ( sometimes rather logically simple) solution to the crime puzzle which brings order back to the afore-disturbed society;
  4. the perception of evil;              >>>> Anything like or beyond thta is of great interest to me!)

Do you know any primary or secondary sources? If you even knew some from an African background that would be marvelous, as I am writing my masters thesis on the subject of the detective novel in Nigeria and Southern Africa and am always grateful for another hint.

Thanks a lot for any contribution.

Best wishes from Anja.


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I was thinking of implications of partly archaic concepts of religiousity such as:
fear that is just inside of all of us and might have found its representative in-carnation in the character of the culprit
the (archaic) need to reinstall order, which can be achieved by finding either a scapegoat in the victim but more preferably in the culprit whose discovery or denouément would ultimately lead to some kind of transfer of guilt in general, inherent in human beings as much as is the potential for "good" deeds (cf. Erich Fromm), onto that one person who has performed an actual crime in the story,
death as the ultimate crime,
and so forth....
During my research, I have come across Christopher Rube-Vestweber's "Religioese Elemente des Detektivromans" which was his phd paper. I was just wondering whether any other scholar has concentrated on that subject as well.
I am trying to find some connections to African literature as, for example, the still current sphere of the supernatural, as a reason for criminal deeds, might be one of the (rural-based) obstacles which the detective, police detective etc. will have to leave behind in order to find a more rational, realistic explanation to crime.... or the society in which a crime has been committed regards the detective either as some uninitated outsider or, instead, holds high expectations towards her/ him as its rather extraordinary representative (--> shamanism, priest-like behaviour etc.) role within it .... or the corrupted society (à la Chandler, Hammet...) is to be cleansed by the detective's devoted or even self-sacrificing work......and so forth.
Interesting. When I teach my mystery as lit class, I start with Sophocles' Oedipus Rex, which is both mystery and morality play. The gods are upset that the king's murderer and usurper goes free, plagues and famine are visited upon the people, and the gods are only appeased when the murderer's identity is discovered and he's fittingly punished. In early detective fiction (e.g., Poe, Conan Doyle, Christie), the detective stood above the moral fray, and often brought nearly supernatural powers (usually of mind) to bear on solving the case. From mid-century on, detectives tended to be closer to the "everyman" ideal--as in Chandler et al--often with their own complex moral codes. In The Big Sleep, Marlowe sees himself as a knight in a couple of scenes--but ultimately as an impotent one--and in fact the principal murder isn't really resolved in a morally satisfying way. Basically, mysteries that acknowledge modernism, with all its moral complexity, are somewhat less likely to do the neat and tidy ending in which the killer(s) get exactly what's coming to them. See Walter Mosley and Patricia Highsmith, among others. Can't help with the African thing--no idea.
Well, Alexander McCall-Smith's Botswana series is like sort of gentle morality plays. It's one of its more attractive features. I happen to believe in the importance of morals or ethics in the crime novel.
I think moral complexity is interesting; moral simplicity and certitude considerably less so. Lessons in morality are pretty much the opposite of interesting. My hope is that smart readers can figure that stuff out for themselves.
A small proportion. I'm losing my faith in the general intelligence of people by watching CNN.
I agree. There has been a great cultural lobotomy. I heard that James Patterson intentionally writes novels with a vocabulary accessible to a sixth grade level reader.
The only thing that disturbs me concernig Mma Ramotswe's pondering on morality is that McCall-Smith has probably transported his perception of how people from Botswana might perceive their reality into her character... It's still interesting, though. I will mention him and his work. As far as I remember, there was this one case of child-abduction with a supernatural background which shows modernistic disapproval of such a thing and its still relevant existence in these-days-Botswana
Do you know the novels of Michael Stanley? Sometimes they allude to African shamanic religions playing a part in the story.

Detective Kubu is not a saint, but a very decent guy. He has an eating disorder.

I don't know any saintly detectives, even in the novels of P.D. James with the gentleman detective Dalgliesh. A good many detectives are in search of some kind of redemption, e.g.; from booze, but they're far from saintly.

James Lee Burke definitely believes in a theological evil. Most contemporary crime fiction relies more on psychological motives rather than theologically evil ones. Mo Hayder has a couple of novels in which a "tokoloshe" figures in the plot.

I would imagine crime fiction that borders on horror would have more instances of pure evil.
Thanks for the authors' names which I will pay attention to now. Even though I am more interested in finding African detective literature, other sources might show inter-cultural borrowings that could be of relevance from a transculurational perspective....
The horror sphere has so far not yet been part of my research but I will give it some serious thoughts...
That reminds me that a lot of historical mystery series set in the Middle Ages have monks, priests, nuns, and abesses as detectives. I have a notion that these are knock-offs of the Cadfael series, possibly with a nod toward feminism with female clerical figures. One would assume that theological concepts of good and evil play a role in those books. (To my embarrassment, I confess I don't read very many historical mysteries and none of the above). And then, of course, there's Umberto Eco with THE NAME OF THE ROSE. That one I've read and found pretty good.
Not all clergy could read and write. For that matter a lot of nobles could, and some of their upper servants, like the estate managers etc. naturally read and wrote. It depends a bit on the time. In Chaucer's age, a lot of people read and wrote. Under Charlemagne, there were schools for all children. However, after that a decline took place, and it's likely that many peasants were unschooled and dependent on their local clergymen.
Another recommendation: Any of John Burdett's books with his Buddhist detective, Sonchai Jitpleecheep. They are full of out of body stuff, ghosts, and the esp that comes with rigorous meditation. I am at present reading The Godfather of Kathmandu in which Sonchai receives help from a Tibetan meditation master to bust a heroin operation. The way Buddhism threads its way through the corruption in these books is wonderful: everyone is a little corrupt, even Sonchai (whose mother is the madam of a Thai whorehouse).


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