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Book Review: Resisting Arrest – Detective Fiction and Popular Culture by Robert A. Rushing

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The title is a double entendre: The book is about detective fiction and the criminal resists arrest, yes, but the analysis goes deeper into a Lacanian analysis of why the reader chooses to read detective fiction in the first place. Robert A. Rushing believes that the reader enjoys the detection but that the resolution steals his satisfaction. In other words, the reader desires the mystery but the author thwarts that desire by solving the mystery. Then the reader reads another book which typically has the same plot. Thus the reader resists the arrest of his desire for the mystery and sublimated violence, but the authors continue to arrest the desire by solving the mystery.

Rushing, sourcing Freudian theorist Jacques Lacan in Resisting Arrest, also compares the process of crime solving to the process of psychoanalysis; apparently, Freud read Sherlock Holmes. Rushing cites the work of Freud, Lacan, and Lacanian theorists Slavoj Zizek and J. Copjec.

The author analyzes classic detective fiction and hard-boiled fiction. The difference between the two is that the classic detective usually relies on logic to solve the mystery. The first example of the classic detective story was Edgar Allen Poe's The Purloined Letter. The classic detective is usually damaged in some way (think: the obsessive-compulsive Monk, whose series is also discussed in this book). The crimes in the classic detective novel generally revolve around the domestic sphere: there is a disruption in the fabric of the familiar and the detective must repair that tear and bring things back to a status quo.

The hardboiled, or noir, detective is also an outsider, but the setting is different: "profoundly irrational, realistic, and gritty, in a way as to (at times) suggest a tacit social critique."

The noir detective may also be further classified as dick or dupe, both categories alluding to the presence of the femme fatale. The dick avoids sexual relationship with the femme fatale (think Bogey in the Maltese Falcon) by acknowledging but avoiding "the real of his desire." The dupe, on the other hand, is trapped by his femme fatale and is thus "doomed." Think of the fate of the protagonist in Sunset Boulevard.

Lacan reminds us that the truth is on the surface, and so to pay attention to "superficial forms." This applies in detective fiction as it is a trivial detail that allows the crime to be solved. Rushing also points out "the stain of the real": that thing that is out of place, that thing that indicates that "all is not well with the world."

Rushing also argues that addiction is a "trope in classic detective fiction." Sherlock Holmes and his famous seven-percent solution. But also the reader: the reader is addicted to the books because just as the junkie can predict the path of his high, the detective fiction reader can predict the arc of the story.

I found Resisting Arrest fascinating. It is a bit academic and used psychoanalytic jargon that required me to keep a list of words to look up on the internet, but the style is not dry. Then again, I am a long-time fan of the genre and — not ashamed to admit — addicted to reading and watching mysteries. And because I am also a fiction writer, it was interesting to study the novel structure from the perspective of psychoanalysis.

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