The Dime Novel and the Detective Story

BEDORE-3-1Pam Bedore first became captivated with dime novels during a fateful encounter in the college library rare books room at the University of Rochester, where she was studying as a graduate student.

“The books I saw that day were about a thousand of the 1,465 Nick Carter dime novels,” says Pamela Bedore, now an assistant professor of English and writing coordinator at UConn’s Avery Point campus. “That first year, while I was doing my doctoral coursework, I was very methodical. I’d go to the Rare Books Room and read dime novels for three hours each week.”

Reading those late 19th-century books, Bedore began to explore the dime store novels, discovering the core elements of detective fiction that can be found in the writings of Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, Mark Twain, William Faulkner, and in stories later developed for film, radio, and television. She traces those discoveries in a new book, Dime Novels and the Roots of American Detective Fiction, published in November by Palgrave/MacMillan as part of the Crime Files Series.

Detective stories began to become popularized with Nick Carter and Allan Pinkerton. Carter was a fictional character who first appeared in an 1886 series of popular books that were written by several different writers. Allan Pinkerton opened the nation’s first private detective agency and later wrote memoirs in the early 1900s based on some of his cases. He subsequently appeared as a character in various dime novels. The phrase dime novel is often used to describe various forms of late 19th- and early 20th-century popular fiction.

“Maybe 30 people wrote the Carter dime novels, but three people wrote most of them,” says Bedore. “The author of Nick Carter was declared dead by The New York Times three times with these different authors.”

“Pinkerton is a very interesting character to look at,” she adds. “He appears in numerous dime novels. Dashiell Hammett, who wrote The Maltese Falcon, was briefly a Pinkerton detective before becoming a writer.”

Read the full article at UConn Today.

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