The Magic Detective. Peter Grant ("Rivers of London") as Opposed to Sherlock Holmes ("A Scandal in Bohemia")

Bachelor Thesis, 2014

55 Pages, Grade: 2,1


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Detecting the Genre of Rivers of London
2.1 What is Detective Fiction?
2.2 What is Fantasy Literature?
2.3 The Genre of Rivers of London

3. Method of Detection
3.1 Armchair or Hard-Boiled Detective?
3.2 Sherlock Holmes
3.3 Peter Grant

4. Helpers and Opponents
4.1 The Sidekick
4.2 The Police Forces
4.3 The Perpetrator

5. The Magic Detective Story as Opposed to the Classic Detective Story

6. Conclusion

7. Bibliography

1. Introduction

Since the publication of Poe's “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” in 1841, detective fiction became increasingly popular. Rzepka states that “[p]erhaps its popularity has something to do with the legendary aura it inevitably lends its celebrities […]” (2). On that account one can deduce that the protagonist plays a dominant part in detective fiction as the term already suggests. Similarly, this quote also implies a reason for the vast fascination the genre casts on its readers, as larger-than-life characters tend to capture the average person's imagination. Another noteworthy phenomenon in literature is the rise of fantasy literature over the past centuries. The reason for its success is quite simple: it is the fascination with the surreal and the uncanny. On that account of those arguments it comes as no surprise that authors started to blend those two genres that have established themselves in popular culture to such extents. One example for this is Ben Aaronovitch's Rivers of London (published in 2011), which features a young police constable who simultaneously engages in magic and therefore also becomes a sorcerer's apprentice.

This paper foremost deals with the question in which ways the magic detective Peter Grant is differentiated from the non-magic detective, that is to say Sherlock Holmes, and in which ways the world of the protagonist is modified by the supernatural. Representatives for the two different approaches will be “A Scandal in Bohemia” (first published in 1891) as well as A Study in Scarlet (first published in 1887) by Arthur Conan Doyle and Ben Aaronovitch's Rivers of London. Even though there are many iconic detectives that could have served the purpose, Sherlock Holmes was chosen as he is something like a patron saint of detective fiction. Priestman states on that matter that “Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes is the supreme 'character' of nineteenth- century detective fiction” (Detective Fiction 74). “A Scandal in Bohemia” was chosen here as it features a female culprit and it will be interesting to set the female role as presented in the short story against the one in the more recent novel by Aaronovitch. However, when referring to Sherlock Holmes, A Study in Scarlet will also be accounted for as this is the story where Watson first meets the legendary sleuth and thus the reader is described a lot of mannerisms of his through the eyes of the narrator. Peter Grant's story was selected as there is barely another novel at the time which features the supernatural next to the criminal in such a striking pattern. This assumption was made due to the fact that Peter Grant is a wizard and a police constable at the same time.

Therefore it will be interesting to explore how this fact influences him and the world he lives in and also the distinction between the Victorian and the postmodern approach.

This paper will set out to clarify the two different genres that can be observed in Rivers of London, namely detective fiction and fantasy literature, and where the novel can be located in order to set the frame for the following investigations. Afterwards, it will be continued with a close study of the two detectives and therefore also the selected stories. On the one hand, the focus here will be on their procedural methods, as this can be seen as highly representative for the topic on behalf of magical alterations. On the other hand, the most conspicuous characteristics will be taken into account because these can be decisive for how the two protagonists approach the issues at hand. To thoroughly explore the subject on behalf of the research question, the underparts, here termed helpers and opponents, need to be examined as well. The helpers and opponents accounted for are the sidekick, the perpetrator and the police forces. Those were elected because they are considered typical components of the detective novel, and therefore it is quite an interesting fact that they are also presented in Rivers of London. Thereafter, the magic detective story will be set against the classic detective story with regard to the respective protagonist, perpetrator, setting and plot.

2. Detecting the Genre of Rivers of London

In order to proceed with this paper, it needs to be clarified which genre Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch actually belongs to. As the genre of a novel categorises a literary work, this needs to be sorted out in order to provide an adequate discussion on the novel. Rivers of London features a young police constable called Peter Grant who is just about to start his career. While trying to find a suitable department for him within the Metropolitan Police, he is assigned to work under the leadership of Detective Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale, who also happens to be a wizard. Thus, Grant becomes a sorcerer's apprentice and a police constable at the same time. To detect the genre of Rivers of London, the two main influences presented in the novel, detective fiction and fantasy literature, need to be distinguished.

2.1 What is Detective Fiction?

In this chapter it will be clarified which generic features constitute the term detective fiction. Foremost one should take notice that there is an ambiguity with the terms crime fiction and detective fiction. Some researchers, such as Heta Pyrhönen, use the term crime fiction to refer to literature about “[…] a criminal's mind and deeds” (44), whereas detective fiction is the term which is used for the kind of literature that focuses on the detective himself. In detail, Pyrhönen defines the term as follows: “As a generic term, detective fiction refers to a narrative whose principal action concerns the attempt by an investigator to solve a crime and to bring a criminal to justice” (43). However, the criminal cannot be completely ignored in detective fiction, as his doings are what launches the rest of the plot and allows the detective to make an appearance. Strictly speaking, detective fiction “[…] tends to create situations in which images of reality are in conflict or with that reality dictated by a killer whose particular madness is suddenly thrust upon the world” (Landrum et al. 1). In this paper, the term detective fiction will rather be used as it is more accurate in describing the genre specified in the following chapters. This is especially due to the fact that Rivers of London is narrated from the perspective of the detective himself and therefore directly contributes to the aforementioned distinction between crime and detective fiction.

To understand the characteristics of detective fiction, it is helpful to understand what it originated from. There are several factors that have triggered the rise of the canon of the genre. For once, the Bow Street Runners were founded in 1749 in London, and they were considered the first professional police force. On that basis, there then was the Metropolitan Police Act of 1828, which established the first municipal constabulary (cf. Scaggs 18). For the first time in England, there existed professionals whose job it was to catch thieves. Thus, a new trade had been created and as criminality was an everyday issue, a certain number of authors were inspired and then took to broaching the issue of the professional detective. Another movement that influenced the rise of the modern detective was that of Naturalism, a literary movement with a more scientifically motivated approach that was inspired by Darwin's theory of evolution (cf. Priestman Detective Fiction 7). This caused a certain interest in forensic sciences and its inclusion in literary works. This approach certainly shaped the procedural methods of Sherlock Holmes as well as the figure itself, as his scientific knowledge is only one of his many skills that make him such a superior sleuth. Dauncey distinguishes the matter by saying that “[f]orensic methods are valued as they transform the body into material evidence, bringing it more fully within the sphere of the law” (168). From the inspiration for creating detective fiction, it can be proceeded to the publication of the first detective story which goes back to 1841 when Edgar Allan Poe's “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” was released. Poe's stories defined the classical detective story as it is known today. They feature the detective C. Auguste Dupin, who became the model for some of the best-known detectives such as Sherlock Holmes (cf. Messent Handbook 27). Therefore, Poe can be considered a pioneer in the field. Before, Poe was the representative of gothic fiction, where the protagonist is faced with supernatural and mysterious power. In detective fiction, this mysterious power is impersonated by the criminal whose identity remains a mystery until the very end. Furthermore, crime was not a new element in literature, as it already appeared in stories such as “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” (1820) by Washington Irving, but Poe was the first one to oppose the criminal to a professional counterpart, namely the detective. Ascari states on that account that “Poe's trilogy reverses this situation, since here it is the detective who holds a supreme power that is based on his encyclopaedic knowledge and analytical frame of mind” (49). In 1887, A Study in Scarlet was published by Arthur Conan Doyle, which first introduced the legendary Sherlock Holmes and his sidekick Watson. George Grella states on the matter of the iconisation of Holmes and Dupin that “[…] all other fictional detectives derive from the Dupin-Holmes tradition” (43). Priestman explains that “[w]ith Doyle's creation of the Sherlock Holmes series, detective fiction became for the first time an indubitably popular and repeatable genre format” (Introduction 4). This means that with the Sherlock Holmes-stories, detective fiction was canonised (cf. Ascari 157) and established itself in literature. Ascari confirms this theory by declaring that Holmes' adventures “[…] made the sleuth even more popular and this sweeping cultural phenomenon, revolving around a single literary figure, helped to consolidate the formulaic character of detective fiction” (157).

In the following paragraph certain generic features that characterise detective fiction will be presented. Pyrhönen asserts that “[…] form and especially plot structure make the detective story the kind of narrative it is” (44). The plot structure of detective fiction is certainly unique and a general outline will be given in the following: “There is a murder or the suspicion that one may be done. The detective is called in and investigates. During the course of his investigation more murders may be done and lives disrupted, but by the end the murder is solved” (van Meter 14). So typically, the plot opens with a crime, ends with its solution and has a middle section where the process of investigation is described. The story begins with the appearance of a dead body and thereby death is the start of something, not the end (cf. Dunant 12). It continues then with the question of whodunit, which allows the detective to take action. On that account, Carl Malmgren defines detective fiction as “quest narratives” (152) because the protagonist is on a quest to unravel a mystery, the so-called “puzzle element” (Rzepka 3), and to unmask the perpetrator. This quest for truth and knowledge is what detective fiction centres on as well as the procedures the detective applies. Malmgren further states that there are “[…] two powerful engines driving crime narratives - the pursuit of an agent and the discovery of the truth” (152). In the penultimate chapter, the detective reveals the murderer and then explains the process of his investigation in the last chapter (cf. Malmgren 153). Furthermore, detective fiction has a split structure, as there are always two stories happening: the crime and the investigation (cf. Pyrhönen 49). The crime triggers the plot, and the story, including the investigation, starts to unfold. Pyrhönen describes this as follows: “[…] the two narratives spread out, the story of the crime extending backward in time to provide the needed concatenation of causes, the discourse running forward detailing the investigation as it chronologically develops” (50). This implies that the detective attempts to reconstruct the past while he is simultaneously taking action in the present. Hence, there is an overlap between past and present.

At the core of detective fiction is, as the name already suggests, the detective. Lee Horsley describes the detective as “[…] a figure who tries to serve justice and who may put something to rights” (37). But in stories such as A Study in Scarlet, the detective is not only considered an observer who attempts to solve the crime. He is rather depicted as some kind of hero (cf. Gillis 3) who has to fight disorder and reinstate society's safety that has been shattered by the criminal's deed. Moreover, Malmgren claims that “[t]he detective's most impressive trait, however, especially given the slippery and fluid world he moves through, might well be the ability to see through all the façades and impersonations and to read people and situations” (159). Hence, the detective can be seen as a reader of people and situations (cf. Dauncey 167 - 168) who attempts at discovering secrets. His aim is “[…] to tell the story of a past event that remains otherwise unknown […]” (Thomas 4). But in modern times he does not have to rely on his intellectual capabilities only. As has been mentioned before, modern science and therefore forensic methods are of assistance. Besides, even though the sleuth of detective fiction is considered to be an ally of the law and justice, he is not particularly a part of that system. He acts to serve justice, but sometimes he has to take to radical, or even illegal, measures to succeed (cf. Landrum et al. 4). To support this claim, Pyrhönen states that “[i]n the fictional investigator the legal and moral codes of law enforcement intersect with those of the criminal order […]” (52). This implies that sometimes the detective has to act on a similar level as the perpetrator in order to succeed. In addition it is claimed that “[…] the fictional detective's motivations, most of his acts and his conscious image of the world exist outside established authority, legal procedure and enforcement” (Landrum et al. 4). Another thing that needs to be mentioned is the isolated stand of the detective in society. The only companion he has is usually his sidekick, and otherwise he remains on the fringes of the community. Thus, he remains isolated and immune towards ordinary feelings and is not distracted from his actual goal (cf. Kinsman 159; Landrum et al. 5). However, the detective is not the only character of importance in detective fiction. The typical structure of detective fiction, which was presented before, requires some typical characters such as a criminal, a victim and very often the police (cf. Worthington 17). Malmgren terms these recurring characters with “Helpers and Opponents” (155). Nevertheless, the most relevant character beside the detective is his sidekick. As Holmes' companion, Watson attained as much an iconic status as the sleuth himself. Even the first detective story, “The Murders in the Rue Morgue”, features this kind of character, although he remains innominate. The sidekick in detective fiction became an institution, changing over time, but never completely abandoned. Yet another character type is usually introduced in the very beginning of a story as “[…] most modern detectives are acquainted with the circumstances of the crime by a client or confident” (Landrum et al. 5). A rather recent phenomenon that should be mentioned, especially in relation to modern detective fiction, is the witness. These are rather important for the detective to actually make a case which can persist at court. It is no longer enough to just rely on the sleuth's wit and instincts to charge the perpetrator, there needs to be evidence to actually make a case and allow the police to advance.

Worth mentioning is also the fact that the genre of detective fiction can be divided further. In this paper the focus will be on the two most popular sub-genres, which are classic and hard-boiled detective fiction. One compound of hard-boiled fiction will be mentioned later, namely the police procedural, as this one will be relevant in relation to Rivers of London. The main differentiation between those sub-genres is in terms of the investigation methods of the protagonists. Before one can proceed it should be taken into consideration that the general features of detective fiction conform to the sub-genre of classic detective fiction in a lot of ways, especially as this is the traditional form that was established by Poe. It is mainly characterised through the predominant question of whodunit and the analytical abilities of its detective. Poe once termed these stories tales of ratiocination (cf. Scaggs 21). Willis states on the matter that “[c]lassic detective fiction is a literature of logic in which everything has a scientific explanation” (60). Nevertheless, the classic and the hard-boiled type have some similarities, as they still belong to the genre of detective fiction. Malmgren states that “[a]s in the classic mystery, the quest in hard-boiled detective fiction consists basically of a process of investigation […]” (156). Messent even claims that the “[…] boundaries containing the two forms (classical and hard-boiled) are then - to a certain degree - permeable” (Handbook 24). But for all that, hard-boiled detective fiction is a “predominantly American form” (Pepper 140) compared to the British tradition of classic detective fiction. The investigation process of the former is rather adventurous and even deadly dangerous (cf. Pyrhönen 52). Pepper furthermore states that “[…] hard-boiled writing is always inflected with political assumptions […]” and therefore also deals with issues such as “race, class, gender and sexuality” (141). Whereas the moral codes in classic detective fiction seem to be clearly outlined, the figures of hard-boiled writing move through a world of moral corruption and decay (cf. Pyrhönen 52). The typical setting for that sub-genre is the modern city (cf. Scaggs 50) and usually the detective is not an amateur sleuth as in the classical form of the genre but a professional private eye (cf. Scaggs 84). Scaggs classifies hard-boiled detective fiction according to its typical features as follows:

These include the centrality of the character of the private eye, the existence of a client, along with the detective's evident distrust of the client, an urban setting, routine police corruption, the femme fatale, an apparently 'neutral' narrative method, and the extensive use of a vernacular dialogue (58).

There a several types of hard-boiled writing, one of which is the police procedural. This type focuses on the “[…] actual methods and procedures of police work […]” (Scaggs 91). As a police constable does not normally work alone, this type also rather focuses on teamwork (cf. Scaggs 94) in comparison to the kind of hierarchical relationships the classic detective story features. Contrary to the private eye or the amateur sleuth, the police officer is “[…] part of the system of law […]” (Messent Handbook 41) and therefore lays an emphasis on power structures within the state and the relationship to its citizens (cf. Messent Police Novel 178). Furthermore, in the police procedural the focal point lies on the “[…] representation of investigative processes, of command and communication structures, and the way knowledge is shared and institutional resources used” (Messent Police Novel 175). This also implies that the police officer has to work within the framework of the law and is not on his own but has to render an account of his investigations to his supervisor(s). He is not as independent as the private eye for example. To finally detect the genre of Rivers of London, the other component of the novel needs to be explored, which is fantasy literature.

2.2 What is Fantasy Literature?

The most striking component of fantasy literature is the magic it features and “[…] the construction of the impossible […]” (James/Mendlesohn 1), that is to say phenomena that cannot be explained by means of science. Nikolajeva further characterises the genre as follows:

Fantasy is an eclectic genre, since it borrows traits not just from fairy tales, but from myth, romance, the novel of chivalry, the picaresque, the gothic novel, mysteries, science fiction, and other genres, blending seemingly incompatible elements within one and the same narrative […] (139).

On the origins of the genre one can say that it derives from Romanticism and, more specifically, from the tradition of the fairy tale. Romanticism rejects the rationality of previous generations, idealises the child and borrows some features from folk tradition, all of which can be located in fantasy literature as well (cf. Nikolajeva 139). Furthermore, one should take the fantastic world the characters live in into account. As the average reader is not familiar with the features of this world, an emphasis need to be laid on describing and explaining the configuration and occurrences. Therefore, fantasy literature cannot be limited to describing the protagonist's encounters and doings, but also has to present the fantastic world in detail so that the reader can make sense of the events taking place in the story.

Fantasy novels have, as does detective fiction, a typical structure, scilicet a stepped journey. This means that the hero and his fellows have to stand their ground in a series of adventures which become more perilous over time (cf. Senior 190). Quite often the plot dissolves into several threads as the companions get separated by some unforeseen event and everyone has to pursue his own minor quest for a while, just to become reunited later to fight the evil antagonist side by side (cf. Senior 190). Due to that specific structure, the novels of the genre can also be termed “quest fantasies” (Senior 190) as the characters are given a task in the beginning which they need to fulfil. According to Senior, the story starts in a place of peace and tranquillity, but then the world of the protagonist is shattered by some outer influence (cf. 190). The hero, or protagonist, of the fantasy novel is usually an “[…] average person with hidden abilities […]” (190) who is reluctant at first to participate in the adventure. Moreover, the characters have to pass several tests on their journey, during which they will receive helpful items. After some time there is a respite, often implemented by a feast and a place characterised by kind hosts and a safe atmosphere which is watched by a “wisdom figure” (cf. 190). Senior further states that “[t]he final stage of the quest brings the hero into direct confrontation with the Dark Lord, whose defeat is a result of some action or decision by the hero” (190). The Dark Lord in fantasy literature describes an evil antagonist with immense powers which he uses for condemnable deeds that harm others. Therefore, it can be claimed that fantasy literature usually features a final battle where the hero and his companions have to defeat the Dark Lord. As Nikolajeva explains, the fantasy novel has inherited this plot structure from the fairy tale (cf. 140). Just as in the fairy tale, the hero leaves home to hurl himself into some kind of adventure, meets helpers and opponents during his journey, has to pass tests in order to defeat the evil opponent and in the end, after a time of trial and loss, returns home (cf. Nikolajeva 140). Senior further says on the duties of the hero: “Choice is crucial in quest fantasy, so protagonists face several cruxes where their choices determine the fate of many” (190). In addition, the protagonist faces loss and devastation during his voyage, but according to Senior, he will recover in the end (cf. 190). The protagonist is additionally defined via his absolute usualness and his later development into a true hero who arises victorious where others would fail (cf. Nikolajeva 153). To sum up, there are certain conventions that should be mentioned:

[…] the importance of companions, the acquisition of knowledge and discovery of self, the crux of choice and action, the rejection of passivity, the wonder of the secondary world and its organic, sentient nature, the deep mythic past of history and legends, the mixture of peoples, the rules and limits of magic, the machinations of the Dark Lord and his minions, the reality of evil and the final crescendo of battle and triumph, if only for a time (Senior 192).

As can be seen here, the focus of fantasy literature, contrary to detective fiction, does not only foreground the hero, but to a large extent the fictitious world as well. Besides, this genre can be further subdivided according to setting and composition. One of the most recent types is the urban fantasy which will be further outlined in the following. This sub-genre is set within urban space (cf. Irvine 200). According to Irvine, there are two main directions urban fantasy can take, namely “[…] those in which urban is a descriptor applied to fantasy and those in which fantasy modifies urban” (200). In the first one, the plot is set in a seemingly realistic city which “[…] is revealed to be in contact with the realm of Faerie […]” (Irvine 200). The other type is an imaginary city with realistic elements (cf. Irvine 200). Irvine clarifies this further by saying that “[b]oth trade in the sublime, but one locates the sublime in the irruption of reawakened supernatural powers into the urban landscape, whereas for the other, that urban landscape is itself the location of the sublime” (201). In the following section the genre of Rivers of London will be discussed, as this is important in setting the ground for further discussions on the novel.

2.3 The Genre of Rivers of London

On account of the characteristics of detective fiction and fantasy literature that have been outlined before, one can clearly see that Rivers of London merges those two genres. This assumption was made on account of the magical elements in an otherwise realistic world that can be encountered in the novel, as for instance the magical section of the Metropolitan Police, which will be elaborated on further in the subsequent chapters. In the following section it will be investigated whether Rivers of London can by seen as a hybrid novel.

The novel certainly has some features of detective fiction as well as fantasy literature. In the following paragraphs those concordances will be spotlighted. The first thing to be mentioned is the fact that the plot of Rivers of London shows a similar structure as detective fiction. The story is triggered by a corpse and the police, amongst them the protagonist Peter Grant, who springs into action, lead by the question of whodunit. The novel then features an investigation during which more murders are committed, but in the end the case is solved. Throughout the novel, the emphasis lies on the investigation and the pursuit of the perpetrator who wreaks havoc on London. He is not seeking a confrontation with a Dark Lord to arrange for peace for a whole world as only very few people are affected by the crimes. The quest is to put someone behind bars and resolve the puzzle. Still one cannot claim that the magical elements are completely banned to the sidelines which will be elaborated on later. In his quest for dissolution, Grant avails himself of the same devices as every modern police constable would do, among which are forensic methods and institutional resources. Therefore, Rivers of London is clearly scientifically influenced, as Peter Grant is constantly trying to find a scientific explanation for everything, even magic itself. This scientific component of magic is even highlighted by the fact that Isaac Newton is presented as the patron saint of wizards (cf Aaronovitch 79). Besides, Grant later conducts some experiments to find out where magic takes its power from (cf. Aaronovitch 196). Throughout the story, Grant engages in a quest for knowledge with regards to the perpetrator and explanations for the things happening around him. In the end, the murderer is revealed, even though no one is really charged for the crimes. In addition, the novel also features a set of characters that are otherwise typical for detective fiction, such as the criminal, the victim(s), the police and the detective, just to name the most important ones. Even though the detectives will be analysed later on, some features need to find mentioning here to clarify matters. As Grant actively participates in the chase and even puts himself in danger, he can rather be seen as a hard-boiled detective. In addition, Peter Grant is not the stereotypical white, upper middle-class detective since he is of mixed race and grew up in the suburbs. He is also not an isolated character who is alienated from the people around him. This is also affirmed by the fact that Lesley May, who could be seen as his sidekick, is portrayed as his friend and co-worker. Furthermore, Grant is not an amateur sleuth as is Holmes, but a professional whose job it is to pursue crimes. Furthermore, if one attempts to set the novel within the framework of detective fiction, it needs to be located within the realm of the police procedural. This sub-genre is usually set within urban space, and hence the realistic setting of Rivers of London needs to regarded. It is set, as the title already suggests, in the city of London. The city is mapped by the protagonist, as there are a lot of references to real places. Furthermore, Grant has to work and act according to the law and has to answer to his supervisor as he is not on top of the chain of command, which is also typical for this sub-genre.

As Grant becomes the apprentice of a wizard who works for the police, Thomas Nightingale, the magical component of the novel becomes evident. Although, even magic is defined as something that cannot be explained by means of science, Grant is determined to do so. In the novel, a constant struggle between supernatural occurrences and science can be observed. Despite the fact that the novel seems to be structured according to the rules of detective fiction, there is a final combat with the evil opponent when Grant has to defeat Mr Punch, who occupies Lesley's body at the time, at Covent Garden. Another structural element that rather corresponds to the tradition of fantasy is the circumstance that the reader is informed about the progress of investigation at all times. This is also due to the fact that the investigator tells the story from his point of view as a homodiegetic narrator. Furthermore, even though Peter Grant rather acts as a detective than a wizard and therefore sticks to his non-magical side, he is, just as the hero in fantasy literature, an average person with hidden abilities who then, all of a sudden, has to engage in some magical adventure. Nevertheless, even if Rivers of London bears much resemblance to the genre of detective fiction, the plot is still strongly influenced by the supernatural elements the protagonist encounters. If one wants to situate the novel within the genre of fantasy literature, it would be seen as urban fantasy beyond doubt. This is due to the fact that the novel features the realistic setting of contemporary London and then adds the magical elements to that urban environment. Yet the question is whether one is obliged to decide for one genre or whether it can be characterised as a hybrid genre. As this seems to be a fusion of the realistic and the supernatural, the phenomenon of hybridisation will be outlined in the following.

The term hybridisation “[…] usually refers to the dynamics and processes involved in the mixing of genres or other cultural phenomena […]” whereas hybridity

“[…] typically designates the results of these processes” (Nünning/Schwanecke 122).

Galster further classifies this occurrence as follows:

Hybrid novels […] combine, transform, and subvert the conventions of several narrative subgenres; break down the boundaries between fiction, poetry, and drama; import non-literary discourses and text-types; and employ narrative strategies that strive to imitate the organizing principles of painting, music and film (227).

Nünning and Schwanecke furthermore claim that the blurring of the boundaries between genres is a rather postmodern phenomenon (cf. 121). The discussed novel is placed within the frame of postmodernity as that period supposedly started in the 1950s and is still present and the novel's publication date is in accordance with that time frame. In Rivers of London, a form of intermixing the real world with supernatural elements can be observed. Nevertheless, this kind of hybridisation can also be found in Victorian literature. Ascari claims that “[t]he peculiar flavour of much Victorian popular literature is the result of a blend between anti-realistic elements (in terms of character and plot) and a realistic setting” (58). Hence, it is not surprising that modern detective fiction borrowed that pattern by placing such supernatural elements around racketeering in the modern city, especially as the role model for most detectives has its seeds in Victorian times (the Holmes-stories are set within that period). On that account, Ascari claims that “[…] contemporary crime fiction and films make abundant use of gothic and supernatural elements […]” (11). Ascari furthermore is of the opinion that supernatural elements re-emerged within the framework of detective fiction as authors could not decline that “powerful grip” (62) it has on the reader. As it was said before, every detective novel contains a mystery that has to be solved by the sleuth. This mystery element, what in regular detective novels often seems like magic and could be described as the impossible crime, is in Rivers of London indeed the result of magic. The novel even makes use of mythology by introducing the genii locorum (river spirits) to the story of Peter Grant. Thus, the novel makes use of elements of detective fiction and fantasy literature at the same time and merges those in order to create a new type of story. For all of those reasons one may argue that the novel can definitely be seen as a hybrid novel that merges the realms of detective fiction and fantasy literature. Consequently, a kind of magic detective fiction is created. The hybridity of the novel will be revisited later as components such as the protagonists should be accounted for as well.


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The Magic Detective. Peter Grant ("Rivers of London") as Opposed to Sherlock Holmes ("A Scandal in Bohemia")
University of Bonn  (Institut für Anglistik, Amerikanistik und Keltologie)
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fiction, crime fiction, fantasy literature, detectives, hybrid genre
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Katharina Lurz (Author), 2014, The Magic Detective. Peter Grant ("Rivers of London") as Opposed to Sherlock Holmes ("A Scandal in Bohemia"), Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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