Beyond the Scene of the Crime: Investigating Place in Golden Age Detective Fiction

Bright, Brittain. 2015. Beyond the Scene of the Crime: Investigating Place in Golden Age Detective Fiction. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

Place is both physical and conceptual; in fiction, place offers an initial basic orientation, but also fulfills many more complex roles. This thesis considers place in the Golden Age detective novels of Agatha Christie, Gladys Mitchell, and Dorothy L. Sayers to establish place as a point of critical engagement, and uses place to re-consider influential works in the genre. The exploration of place uncovers textual clues that are not necessarily detective clues, complicating these novels and dismantling deceptive assumptions about the homogeneity of the Golden Age.

The evidential place, or “the scene of the crime”, provides a physical setting for the crime itself and the clues that it generates, but it is rarely the most important or revelatory place in a detective story. Christie developed a place-typology that defined much of her work: the house, the village, London, and the holiday convey distinct meanings from early in her career. These places evolve over decades of social commentary, but each maintains a core of structural meaning. Character and place often develop in tandem, and Mitchell is particularly interested in the distortions of the relationship between the two. She rejects the rationality of the genre, and uses place and focalization to embed psychological questioning in her novels. Sayers considers place a central “artistic unity” of the novel. She presents place as a socially constructed unit, and through notions of “belonging” or being “out of place”, she interrogates structures of milieu. Place becomes a central focal point in her later novels, through which she questions contemporary values and identities.

In all of these authors’ work, the detective is a figure representative of modernity, developed through his or her relationship to place. Place also takes the investigation outside of purely plot-based channels, and into sociological and psychological areas of questioning.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

Identification Number (DOI):


detective, crime, place, scene, setting, space, Golden Age, Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Gladys Mitchell

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

English and Comparative Literature


31 May 2015

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

03 Jun 2015 15:11

Last Modified:

08 Sep 2022 13:50


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