Tuesday, November 8, 2016


This is from a wonderful book MURDER FOR PLEASURE about the history of the murder mystery story written by Howard Haycraft, 1941

Published while the war was raging, well before June 6, 1944, D -Day, nevertheless, this post is my way of never forgetting the terrible sacrifices made that day so the world could be free.

"When Nazi Luftwaffe squadrons unleashed their wanton fury on London in the late summer of 1940, initiating to their own consternation a deathless epic of human courage and resistance, they also drove a city of eight million souls beneath the earth's surface for a nightly refuge. After the first shock of a kind of battle new in the annals of warfare had passed, life underground began to take on some of the aspects of normality. One of the earliest harbingers of rehabilitation was the appearance of books in the fetid burrows while the bombs rained overhead. What volumes, asked curious Americans from the comfortable security of their homes, could men and women choose for their companionship at such a time? The answer was soon forthcoming in dispatches from the beleaguered capital, telling of newly formed "raid" libraries set up in response to popular demand to lend detective stories and nothing else. The implications contained in this circumstance, as applied to the underlying appeal of the detective novel, might easily constitute a superior essay in themselves (and are perhaps unfathomable at that). But surely no more striking illustration could be found of the vital position which this form of literature has come to occupy in modern civilized existence, for whatever reasons.

"A few months before the outbreak of the Second World Was, press dispatches from totalitarian Italy announced to the outside world that the works of Agatha Christie and Edgar Wallace, the two English detective story writers most popular in Italian translation, had been banned from the country by decree of the Fascist party. No reason was stated for the decision. But early in 1941 a more explicit action was reported from the Third Reich, where the Nazi party ordered the withdrawal of all imported detective fiction from German bookshops. As spokesman for the party line, the Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung was quoted in angry denunciation of this "illegitimate offspring" of English literature. Detective stories, the newspaper thundered, were nothing but "pure liberalism" designed to "stuff the heads of German readers with foreign ideas."

"These actions were dismissed by many citizens of free lands simply as further instances of the reasonless stupidity (once so amusing) of dictatorships. But those readers who paused to recall the genesis, history, and very premises of detective fiction found little that was surprising in the edicts. For the detective story is and always has been essentially a democratic institution; produced on any large scale only in democracies; dramatizing, under bright cloak of entertainment, many of the precious rights and privileges that have set dwellers in constitutional lands apart from those less fortunate."

"Detectives," wrote the late E. M. Wrong of Oxford in a notable dictum, "cannot flourish until the public has an idea what constitutes proof." It is precisely this close affinity between detection and evidence which accounts for the interrelation of the fictionized form and democracy. For, of all the democratic heritages, none has been more stubbornly defended by free peoples the world over than the right of fair trial -- the credo that no man shall be convicted of crime in the absence of reasonable proof, safeguarded by known, just and logical rules.

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