The Disabled Detective. Representation of Disability and Immobility in Jeffery Deaver's Lincoln Rhyme Novels

Bachelorarbeit, 2019

27 Seiten, Note: 1,7


Table of contents

1. Introduction

2. Contextualising Disabled Detectives Studies and the Novels
2.1 Disability Studies in Literature
2.2 Detective Fiction
2.3 Disabled Detectives

3. Jeffery Deaver's Lincoln Rhyme Novels and its Characters

4. Representation of Disability in the Series
4.1 Styles of Motion
4.2 Modes of Thinking
4.3 Forms of Communicating
4.4 Not Despite but Because Of

5. Conclusion


1. Introduction

Looking back in history at canonical literature, in works such as Herman Melville's Moby-Dick (1851) or even William Shakespeare's Richard III (c. 1592) disabled characters have always been present. Nevertheless, when I started reading about a disabled detective for the first time in 2008 it felt ground-breaking. I was drawn in by this innovative idea, the benefits and struggles that added to and moved the plot. Yet, even before I familiarised with Jeffery Deavers's Lincoln Rhyme, I had already unknowingly encountered numerous other disabled detectives, may it be Adrian Monk of the eponymous TV-series Monk (2002-2009, prod. Tony Shalhoub) who suffers from germaphobia as a result of the traumatic loss of his wife, and probably some form of OCD or the beloved Sherlock Holmes (Arthur Conan Doyle, 1887-1927), who is often diagnosed by amateurs as well as literary scholars with drug addiction and a position on the autism spectrum (Mintz 1).

The first tentative steps in researching literary disability studies turned out to establish a very current topic that has received increased critical attention recently. Examining where my favourite author's novels can be placed in this enormous literary field and especially how scholars of disability in literature would classify the books and characters in terms of disability representation seemed of interest. How is the disability addressed or mentioned? How do the characters cope with the impairment and how to assess the curing process and mental development particularly in regard to literary disability studies? I am proposing, that the Lincoln Rhyme novels are a prime example for literary representation of disability, because they mention progress and regress, coping and suffering and are, to my understanding, as close to the reality as crime fiction involving a disabled detective as possible. It will become clear that the reality of living with a disability has been neglected throughout history and the theory of disability being something normal is only very recent.

Researching on such a new field is both rewarding and laborious. Susannah Mintz' monograph The Disabled Detective was published mid-September 2019 (citation-wise its publication year is postponed to 2020), but beforehand, studies of literature seemingly neglected the existence and potential significance of this specific genre. Therefore, the information and knowledge needed for this essay are mostly compiled from literary disability studies in general and the sparse essays or comments that were written about disabled detectives, apart from Mintz' book.

The first chapter is dedicated to disability studies in literature, their development history, their theory and especially scholars' achievements. We will touch upon historical events regarding the disability movement until we move on to the most influential works of literary scholars. The fundamental shift in research questions is extraordinary and will be discussed chronologically. To narrow the main topic down, detective fiction is the noteworthy sub-genre. The differences between crime- and detective fiction are briefly discussed and conspicuous characteristics of this type of literature are summarized. In a shift of attention towards disabled detectives in literature, the main concern will be their specific position and their emblematic profit towards the fictional literature. How literature in general and especially detective fiction can benefit from inclusion and representation of disability will be the last point of interest before moving on to the main topic of this essay. Conflating the knowledge acquired, this thesis will analyse three of Jeffery Deaver's Lincoln Rhyme novels. This is based on three categories to analyse how disability is represented in these novels. The chapter “Styles of Motion” will revolve around movement quite literally as the quadriplegic detective moves seldom or not at all as well as metaphorically in terms of moving through time and space in the plot. The subsequent chapter “Modes of Thinking” focusses on the perception of disability from the disabled character's perspective. How do they feel towards the disability and what, if anything, do they do to conquer it? “Forms of Communication” concentrates on the perception of disability from the outside, in other words, it will concentrate on questions such as: How do other characters address the disability and what kind of relationship form the addressee and the addresser? The concluding chapter will build the bridge between disability studies in literature and how the shift that happened in theory was implemented in practice, the phrase “Not Despite but Because” will be elaborated and the development of the character Lincoln Rhyme is analysed in context to the current main concern of literature disability studies.

2. Contextualising Disabled Detectives Studies and the Novels

In the 1970s, the disability rights movement reached its peak. One of its major achievements towards representing and erasing discrimination of disabled people was the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. It prohibited a discrimination of disabled individuals in government institutions, programs and employment (U.S. Department of Justice). This agreement ensured future research and movements in disability studies in humanities and literature. But only the 1990's Disability Act in the USA and the Disability Discrimination Act 5 years later in the UK, attempted to eliminate discrimination against disabled persons in all social settings. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibited “discrimination on the basis of disability in employment, State and local government, transportation“ and more (U.S. Department of Justice). It took a long time for legislation to eradicate social injustice with regard to disability and this process is still far from being completed.

2.1 Disability Studies in Literature

Starting with the disability rights movement in the 1970s the first approaches of disability studies focused on giving disabled people more visibility. Literary scholars reviewed canonical text and offered different reading techniques adding new ways of criticism with a view of disability. The new discipline “Disability Studies in Literature” arose in the 1990s and offered new analytical tools on disability representation and development (Barker et al. 3). Literary scholars were able to draw from disability scholars in the humanities, especially in finding models and tools to analyse images of disability. (Mitchell et al. 15). Nevertheless, it took a long time until the subject was taken seriously and concerned in broader scholarly context rather than just in certain essays in compilations or trade journals. Even in 2006, Emily Stanback was “largely on [her] own in Romantic disability studies” (112). The attention the field received increased rapidly until 2012 when Stanback co-chaired the CUNY Graduate Center English Student Association conference, designed as an interdisciplinary disability studies conference (113).

When Rosemarie Garland-Thomson opened up the field disability studies in literature with Extraordinary Bodies in 1997, people with disabilities were merely marginal characters or an incarnate freak show. Disability served as divider of normal or “normate”, as Garland-Thomson coined it, and otherness. Literary representation lacked other traits and factors that would have described the character in addition to his disability. Even further, it denied personal development and dynamic social relationships. “Literary narratives of disability usually depend on the objectification of the spectacle that representation has created.” (Garland-Thomson 12). Disabled characters were prescribed characteristics, which can be identified as mainly negatively connoted and asocial. Their morally bad behaviour was excused by other characters and towards the reader as provoked by their disability and non-comparable to normates' ethics. The book helped to expose how the “stereotypical modes of representation can fail to align with the realities of disability” (Stanback 110).

Aesthetic Nervousness (2007) already dealt with represented disability especially in social settings between the disabled and the non-disabled characters. Quayson opposes and compares disability representation and “the sublime”: “The sublime […] is an aspect of understanding in confrontation with something ineffable that appears to resist delimitation or organisation. It exposes the struggle between Imagination and Reason” (23). Scholars agreed upon impossible total representation of the sublime. Whereas the literary representation of the sublime and disability are alike, disability is omnipresent and as ambivalent in literature as it is in the real world. Quayson suggests viewing disability and the sublime on a continuum oscillating between the abstract concept and real conditions. “Disability serves then to close the gap between representation and ethics, making visible the aesthetic field's relationship to the social situation of persons with disability in the real world” (Quayson 24). He aimed to move the discourse away from positive or negative connotations, that is good or bad representation but to direct one's attention towards the complex nature of disability and its ambivalent and diverse portrayal in literature. “Disability must be examined in relation to the time, place, culture and individual from which it issued” (Stanback 111). Literary representation and real-life treatment are often still on two sides of a coin, and the “epistemological effect of representation is quite different from the emotional effects of misunderstanding and stereotyping in the real world” (Quayson 30). Yet, quintessentially Quayson argues that representation alone is somewhat positive and a step forward.

This can be seen in Stanback's 2014 essay “Literary Disability Studies: The Series and the Field” in which she argues that literature “does not merely reflect the culture of its production, but can influence the attitudes and lived realities of its readership” (110). She acknowledges the successful progress in representing the realities of disabled people and stresses the (positive) influence of good and life-like characterization and plot on the reader. Not only do disabled people feel valued and seen, but non-disabled readers are also able to concern and surround themselves with disabling realities and even implementing the drawn conclusions into their own lives.

Seeing disability as something different can use this stereotype, this stigma as an advantage: to illuminate the complex system that is humanity and our social relations. Sociological disability studies conquer discrimination and prejudices against impaired people and point out environments that make the impaired disabled, stating that the absence of a ramp is making a wheelchair user disabled, not his impairing condition. The Cambridge Companion to Literature and Disability (Barker et al.) explains that the goal of literary disability studies is strongly inspired by the sociological models but also and especially features new ways of reading canonical texts. The major critical stances questions if and how disability is represented. While mentioning Lennard J. Davis' Enforcing Normalcy (1995) it also discusses whether disability is to be described as the absence of normality, tackling hitherto the relating question of “What is normal?” It is argued that it is only the construct of the norm, which makes the disabled disabled and deviant. Only in comparison one can state what is different, but “The Normal” per se is nearly non-existent. And still, the disabled character is in a position where he or she has to want to get back to said “normal” and live within their limits. It questioned the view of disabled people having a deficit instead of just being like this.

Currently scholars shift their attention towards said question. The “disability gain” movement concerns itself with how acknowledging and including disability can enhance our societies' ethics. It is stated that representing all ways of disabled living in literature can enrich the lives of the disabled in the real world. Acceptance of the condition without characterizing the person or literary character by it is the impelling motive, in other words, it is exactly this disability that makes him or her able to do something: not in spite of the disability, but because of it (Barker et al. 96-98).

2.2 Detective Fiction

Literary Scholars differentiate between crime fiction and detective fiction. Crime in its fundamental definition includes sins such as incest or fornication. In contrast, most of today's crime fiction really is detective fiction. The plot revolves around an investigator, his characteristics, his past and present and his attempts “to solve a crime and to bring a criminal to justice” (Pyrhönen 43). One basic component of detective fiction is the puzzle element. The reader is invited to try to solve the case in collaboration with (or in a battle against) the detective. However, solving the crime is not the point but “to exercise [ones] retrospective imaginations.” (Rzepka 3). The reader shall comprehend the plot, remember the clues and experience an aha-moment shortly after the investigator presents the solution in the realization of the complex relationships of the hints.

What distinguishes detective fiction and other (sub)genres is the temporal displacement. In Whodunits the crime already happened, the investigation takes place in the present and it ends with the solution. Reader and detective compete against each other in finding the wrongdoer and solving the case. The main person in Whydunits is the known culprit, the plot revolves around him in the present and the events in the past that lead up to the crime. Hard-boiled narratives usually visualize the ongoing investigation, almost pushing aside the story of the crime itself (Pyrhönen 49).

In early detective fiction criticism, the narrative strategies involved backwards constructed plots. The reader would only see the interlocking and interacting elements of the plot in the light of the ending, in the solution (Pyrhönen 46). In addition to the skills that Whodunit and Whydunit require, the author of detective fiction needs to be competent and imaginative. His aim was to confuse the reader while simultaneously giving him every information necessary. From the 1970s onwards, detective fiction studies major assumption about its genre's popularity was based on the establishment of a police force and its subsequent formation of hierarchy. The police force on the longer, legal lever and respectively an increase in societal sense of security. Detectives in literature reinforced this feeling by allowing the reader to deal with insecurity and difficult issues in the safety of his home and providing the speedy solution of said issues by the moral hero (Pyrhönen 47). In 1990s social studies, questions about gender, race and class entered detective fiction criticism. Gradually its focus shifted towards fictional representation of today's reality where “differences [are] acknowledged and […] power relations can be unsettled” (Pyrhönen 48).

2.3 Disabled Detectives

The first-ever publication on disabled detectives in literature was a collection of stories. The Defective Detectives in the Pulps written by G. Hoppenstand and R.B. Browne and published in 1983 (Mintz 2) gathered detective and mystery stories, the oldest of which was published in the 1930s. Since then, unfortunately, disabled detectives only played a marginal role in literary studies. In history, physical handicaps were always made the emblems of evil. Disabled detectives, therefore, combine character traits that otherwise would differ and they create an ambivalence of the evil disability and the evil-conquering detective in one person.

In trying to find a balance, the disabled detective has to obliterate the stereotype, be the active hero, a good person and subject of his own actions rather than the passive receiver of actions taken against him (Jakubowicz). If said balance is not found or striven to be found, Jakubowicz criticizes, many authors abuse disability as “means of indicating the separation of their heroes from the 'normal' world”, and authorize their detectives to avail the law and work outside of hierarchies or “regimes of power” (Jakubowicz). Furthermore, when reading disabled detective fiction, keeping the key phrase “disability gain” in mind, the question arises if the disability generates interest and curiosity or if it is essential to the nature of the detective?

According to Mintz (2020) and Mitchell and Snyder (2008), major criticism is based on what scholars see as pragmatism of disability: the impairment works as a prosthetic. The disability helps the story along, triggering interactions or adding drama but is insignificant on its own. On the other hand, Mintz is arguing against this, stating that “impairment in this sense is meant to be read past” (Mintz 5, italics in original) . Whereas Jacubowicz talked about the disability as a wall between the detective and the normal world, Mintz takes this thought further. She is arguing that the disability, the immobility in detective fiction, is ultimately pointing towards other powers the detective inherits: his knowledge about forensics or psychology of culprits and especially his deductive skills. When disability is limiting the detective in one way or another, his mental and coping powers are the traits the reader should marvel at. Concerning this matter, the deduction and sleuthing is used as a coping mechanism itself. In several instances, a trauma precedes the decision of becoming a detective. Even further, “crime busting avenges the sleuth's own trauma” (Mintz 3). May it be the accidents that lead to the impairment or an unrelated trauma, the morally “good” sleuthing is used as the opposite for the bad thing that happened in the detective's past. Lastly, impairment even adds to one of the main features of detective fiction: suspense. Especially in thrillers (like the books this thesis is about to analyse), not only the victims' life and health but also the detective's are at risk. If said detective is already immobile and therefore even more vulnerable, that adds to the consecutive drama (Mintz. 126-127).

3. Jeffery Deaver's Lincoln Rhyme Novels and its Characters

Culminating all the information stated above, the disabled detective Lincoln Rhyme is an exceptional example for the theory and practice of disability studies in literature. At the opening of the first book, his impairing accident has happened about 4 years ago. Working a crime scene, Lincoln has bended down over the body of a policeman recently murdered by a serial killer. When he was picking up evidence from his uniform, an oak beam crashed down from the ceiling, burying him. When Lincoln was found and retrieved several hours later, his fourth cervical vertebra, a highly important disc in his spine was damaged beyond repair and resulted in a quadriplegia. Lincoln can only move his head and parts of his shoulder as well as his left ring finger with which he operates certain technological aids. This degree of disability leaves him nearly immobile and is unique in detective literature.

When the first novel, The Bone Collector was published, Garland-Thomson has just published her first book on disability studies. One can even find some of her criticism in the first book. Rhyme's behaviour effectively can be described as asocial and still are excused and accepted. The shift in disability studies exemplified by Quayson's and Stanback's work are illustrated in the following books of the series, especially in The Stone Monkey. Even “disability gain” is touched upon in the novels, best to be described by the character's development throughout the tenth book, The Kill Room. Furthermore, Lincoln Rhyme is a prime example for the disabled detective. Jacubowicz's comment on detectives working outside the law and the disability is separating them from the normal world can be retrieved in the novels. In The Bone Collector Rhyme secretly restarts investigating in the case without jurisdictions, in The Stone Monkey he hires an illegal immigrant and in The Kill Room he investigates despite overriding prohibitions. As we will see later on, Mintz' and Mitchell and Snyder's criticism upon the pragmatism of disability in literature is applicable to the novels, especially the first book. Enter Lincoln Rhyme, who not only avenges his trauma, as Mintz stated but uses sleuthing as a survival strategy, even being resurrected from deathbed. Yet, the most prominent tool disability constitutes is the tool of suspense. Whether in the encounter of the culprit in The Bone Collector or the near-death experience in The Kill Room discussed later, both lead to an increase of tension and drama in the story due to the immobility of the acting characters.

Especially for beginners in the field of literary disability studies, the series and especially the books mentioned are prime examples to test theory and criticism. The progression and regression are relatable to disabled and non-disabled people alike and both are shown in small steps, no celestial cure or melodramatic event. The focus on conversations and thoughts regarding the disability trigger empathy and take the reader's hand exploring the disabled persons' life. The illustrations of disabilities and their impact on the characters' lives are unbiased in showing advantages and disadvantages of the condition and the long-term effects. Despite surgeries to lessen those, the disability is not cured nor resolved. It is the ongoing foundation of every characters interaction with each other and the case.

The stories are constructed similarly: the reader is shifting between perspectives chapter-wise or sometimes in between indicated by graphic symbols. A semi-omniscient third-person narrator is bound to the perspective of different characters. The story of the book is mostly driven by the plot surrounding Rhyme and Amelia, their colleagues, and the investigation. Those chapters are interrupted by the plot involving the culprit(s). Whereas the detective plot is told chronologically, and the culprit plot are significantly pro- and analeptic, both are elliptical. As is customary in the genre, most chapters end on a marked ellipsis, a “cliffhanger” so to speak, others transition only skipped over a certain period. Both plots come together when the crime is resolved and the investigators meet the culprit. Only when another involved malefactor has to be caught or a clue has to be resolved, the plots separate again. Deaver oftentimes uses repetitive frequency when telling an event from different perspectives, even several chapters apart; for instance, when the culprit was watching the investigators from afar. The story of each book is chronologically situated in the year they are published, some occurrences mentioned match with real life events and references are made to real people such as celebrities.


Ende der Leseprobe aus 27 Seiten


The Disabled Detective. Representation of Disability and Immobility in Jeffery Deaver's Lincoln Rhyme Novels
Universität Bremen
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Buch)
Disability Studies, Disability, Literatur, Literature, Lincoln Rhyme, Detektive, Detective, Disabled
Arbeit zitieren
Sophy Mindt (Autor:in), 2019, The Disabled Detective. Representation of Disability and Immobility in Jeffery Deaver's Lincoln Rhyme Novels, München, GRIN Verlag,


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