Todorov: “The Typology of Detective Fiction”

In his essay “The Typology of Detective Fiction” Tzvetan Todorov examines the different genres of detective fiction by outlining the distinct features of each and how each genre compares and contrasts with the others.

Todorov begins his essay with a brief explanation of genre, and its evolution within society. He also mentions the features of great novels and that “As a rule the literary masterpiece does not enter any genre save perhaps its own; but the masterpiece of popular literature is precisely the book which best fits its genre” (138). Todorov then begins his analysis of detective fiction, starting with the classic “whodunit.” He classifies this genre as having relatively strict rules, and consisting of two stories, the crime and then the detective finding out who did it. From this, Todorov states, another form of detective fiction branches out: the thriller. While the whodunit relies equally on both the crime and the inspection of the criminal, the thriller primarily revolves around the second story and instead of a strict factual approach to catching the criminal, the main characters are constantly intertwined within the events of the story. In some cases it is doubtful that the main character will even make it to the end of the book. The final genre of detective fiction that Todorov introduces is that of the suspense novel. This novel keeps the suspense of the whodunit while adding some of the elements of a thriller novel. Todorov then ends his essay by questioning whether these different genres evolved from one another or exist simultaneously.

I found Todorov’s final paragraphs in which he questions whether each form of detective fiction evolved from one another or all forms exist and developed simultaneously. In reading his essay, I felt as if each genre evolved into he next one, as each genre contained core elements of the first, with several new elements integrated as well. In addition, I associated each genre with specific books, some of which are typically associated with different time periods. In his conclusion, however, Todorov points out that each genre exists today, and some are even penned by the similar authors.In addition, I found it interesting that in his conclusion Todorov realizes that many detective novels do not fit into any of these three genres, and that that is also a valid form of literature.

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