ABSTRACT

The detective magician, an American subgenre, was popularized by several series characters between 1935 and 1945. This decade comprises a meeting point between different strains of detective fiction: the waning years of the Golden Age, a highpoint of hard-boiled pulp detectives, and the rise of the espionage novel. Following Ernest Mandel’s general chronology from Delightful Murder, I argue that the detective magician serves as a transitional figure who embodies contradictory impulses: the conflation of mystification and demystification, the supernatural and the rational, and justice and criminality. After a preliminary discussion of magic’s self-dividedness, I review the overlap between magic, theology, and science in the context of the nineteenth century, moving from there to the interrelation of these threads with detective fiction. Important theoretical writers include Simon During and Michael Saler. I then explain why stage magic is an appropriate vehicle to represent these contradictions through discussions of exemplary detective stories by G. T. Fleming-Roberts, Walter Gibson, Clayton Rawson, and Sax Rohmer.

KEYWORDS: magic and magicians in literature, detective fiction, pulps, criminality, ideology