‘The Mystery Writers Conspire to Make Our Flesh Creep’: Horror, Detection and Mystery in the late 1920s and early 1930s

Mark Jancovich, Shane Lee Brown

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Abstract

An examination of detective and horror fiction in the late 1920s and early 1930s that explores the ways in which texts were generically identified within this period. To this end, it examines a range of reviews, predominantly from the New York Times, but also a range of collections and studies published at the time. In the process, it demonstrates that, during this period, detective and horror fiction were not understood as separate genres but as virtually interchangeable terms, and were often subsumed within a larger generic category, Mystery. In other words, while not all horror stories involved detection, most featured an investigation into mysterious phenomena; and while not all detective fiction involved horror, most were concerned with the mysterious, eerie and strange. Consequently, many detective stories were supposed to far more horrifying and blood-curdling that one might expect today. Finally, the article turns to a range of collections and studies produced in the period, many of which actively sought to counter understanding of detective and horror fiction that were common at the time: they attempted to produce a sense of distinction between them. However, as will be shown, although these distinctions may have gained traction in later periods, the association between detective and horror fiction lasted well into the 1930s, at least in among the reading public. Mystery as a genre was therefore concerned with the conflict between the powers of rationality and its confrontation with the mystery and irrationality, a conflict that was particularly pertinent in the 1920s, when many believed that western societies were moving from Victorianism to Modernism, a process that was often understood (as in the Scopes Trial of 1926) in terms of a conflict between science and traditional belief.
Original languageEnglish
JournalIrish Journal of Gothic and Horror Studies
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 6 Aug 2021

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