Detectives Who, How & Why

Sherlock & Poirot



I responded to Calmgrove’s post, “Locked Room Cozy is a Page-turner” , making an observation on the nature of the whodunnit. This is pure speculation, but if we keep in mind that all forms of Mass Media contain values, beliefs and ideologies,  one can see how male biasesand values could shape the characteristics of mystery stories and the development of the literary detective.  I suspect that the whodunnit almost falls into male and female categories. Obviously readers and writers of both genders can move from the one type to the other. However the evolution of the genre appears to have evolved out of a societal-cultural role pattern and expectations. Early detectives, tended  to rely on the male preference for a mechanistic approach to solving the mystery. Their knowledge and observational skills concentrated on the how of the mystery.  In effect, the whodunnit is very often a process of discovering how it was done in order to catch the perpetrator of the crime.

Lady Detectives 3twq

 The early Lady Detectives  were written in the model of the male detectives, using their skills and knowledge in the same manner as their male counterparts.  Their advantage was in how society under estimated them and in their observation of things, most men would have considered inconsequential, the emphasis was on the how in order to arrive at the who.

In 1938, Zelda Popkin introduced Mary Carner, considered the first modern female detective

Male whodunnit – How-dunnit discovers the mechanics of the mystery.


Female whodunnit – Why-dunnit leads to the mechanics of the mystery.



Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple demonstrates a shift as observations about human behaviour  places more significance on emotions and motivations. The one detective figures out how it was done to discover who did it. The other detective investigates motive, the why, which leads to who. The who then helps provides the means of unravelling the method . Both detectives are essentially puzzle solvers who approach the puzzle from different sides.


The Hard Boiled detective follows a convoluted emotional path full of ethical grey areas. Lots of physical encounters, where action & threat are a metaphor for the detective’s emotional vulnerability. The solitary male detective follows a physical trail to the emotional heart of the mystery. The puzzle/mystery is cracked open (to crack the case); the detective seeks emotional whys in a hands on manner. The mystery always involves the eternal mystery of the dangerous/unattainable woman, Femme Fatale.



Black Mask - The Maltese Falcon








In the Noir world of the Hard Boiled Detective, women could be obstacles, goals,  and antagonists. Even so, the Lady Detective could play out the role of protagonist, as long as she followed the masculine path of the knight errant down the mean streets.








Peace Starts With Me: Video Art by Magali Charrier


Magali Charrier was commissioned by PUMAPeace, alongside 7 other artists, to create a piece around the idea of Peace for the World Peace Festival 2011. The piece was subsequently broadcast on Channel4 in October 2011 as part of Random Acts.

Artist Statement

“I use drawing as a tool for investigating the human body and its inner workings—giving sight to what is only felt, not yet seen or known. By merging animated drawings with live action, I put mark making at the centre of filmmaking. In their dialogue, body and trace question the materiality of movement and of human presence.

For films4peace, I was concerned with depicting the intimate battles that occur daily within oneself and the chaotic journey that takes place in order to reach inner peace. A simple setting: one fixed long shot, a human figure in an empty space. Stillness. Suddenly shadows flicker out of the human figure, sporadically first, then frenetically entering and extracting themselves, interfering and frantically disrupting the initial state, building up to darkness. Peace comes as a sudden breath born out of chaos.”

Charrier is an award winning director, animator and video editor whose work has been toured and broadcast throughout the world.


Magali Charrier – click to visit her website.


Click to view Le Corps en Construction series by Magali Charrier.

Her background in fine arts, animation and dance gives her a highly sought-after and distinctive style often incorporating film and animation. She is the recipient of numerous awards (VideoDansa Prize, Barcelona; NAHEMI Award at Encounters Film Festival, Bristol, Best Dance Film at CineDans Festival, Amsterdam and more) and bursaries from Channel4, BBC4 and the Arts Council.

Magali also works as a visual artist, producing animated video projections for live theatre and dance productions as well as short films and illustration. She completed a short series of animated films about contemporary dance, commissioned by The Place. The series was due to launch in summer 2014.


Digital Twilight Zone of lost phones – Sorry Wrong Number | Fusion

New mass media technology changes social behaviour and has impact on  laws, businesses and education systems. The situation for Christina Lee and Michael Saba is a bureaucratic bump in the technological highway to the future. Their home seems to be an off ramp for lost phones. Due to a puzzling combination of technological possibilities, their home keeps being identified as a location of missing phones. Multiple tech theoretical solutions fail to solve the problem.

The Exile of Time



This technological mystery is compounded by a legal limbo that grows around the incidents of those seeking phones and people who are not at the couples’ residence. Who is responsible for this problem and the potential outcome from an angry disbelieving stranger at the door ? In the present situation, no business or government body has responsibility for “a sorry, wrong GPS location”. Once again, the impact of Mass Media technology out strips business & government’s ability to adapt to new configurations of human behaviour and technological outcomes. Read the full Fusion article by Kashmir Hill in the link below.

babes in phone land 1

Sometimes people are angry. Sometimes sad. Sometimes they have police officers with them. But all of them are convinced their phones are in this Atlanta house.

Source: Why do people keep coming to this couple’s home looking for lost phones? | Fusion

Cheeky Humour of Vintage Canadian Tire Catalogues « O’ Canada

SEE: Cheeky Humor of Vintage Canadian Tire Catalogues « O’ Canada.


While visiting  O’ Canada (Reflections on Canadian Culture  from Below the Border), I came across this post on Vintage Canadian Tire Catalogues. I am a bit too young to remember these specific ones, I have vague memories of the Old Gent featured on the cover.

The covers speak to a different time, with a different set of values, beliefs and ideologies. The target audience is definitely men. Even as a boy, I remember entering the local Canadian Tire and smell of rubber, metal and various merchandise said masculine territory – women & girls go to the clothing store next door to “shop”.

The activities presented on the covers of these catalogues, home & vehicle maintenance, outdoor recreation are presented as male-centric. The young Pretty Blonde in sweater or swimsuit catches the eye of old & young.  Note that gardening is acceptable women’s activity as shown in the second image ( Spring and Summer 1958).

The second image also plays on Canada’a Two Solitudes in a cheeky way.  The Pretty Blonde is on the other side of the white picket fence and the Parlez-Vous Francais is positioned to catch the eye and emphasize the stereotypical view of French culture. 

Of course all the characters are white because Canada was a “white” nation – the reality is that this was never the case, but the socioeconomic  narrative of the political & business power structure said otherwise . Characters is a very apt term. In a way these covers function somewhere between a postcard and serialized cartoon-strip. Elements of Gasoline Alley can be detected in the characterization and the humour & foibles of mundane life.

Unlike Gasoline Ally, the characters of the Canadian Tire Catalogue have seen their day. The catalogue in the age of online shopping and digital text has been replaced by flyers (print & e-mail), and specialty  magazines and tabloid style seasonal reports on the latest products & sales.

Canadian Tire - DriverAll the intentional humour has dissipated. Obviously Canada now recognizes itself as a diverse country of many cultural, ethnic & racial backgrounds. Gender biases are a thing of the past,…….. maybe the humour is more subtle & ironic now. Maybe……..

Canadian Tire - Destination Spring….the more things change…

Canadian Tire - Destination Spring 2

… the more we see echoes of past beliefs  & tropes.  The Old Gent has disappeared and children, including one or two of different racial backgrounds have shown up. Girls play, but not “real” sports.  Young white couples without children in the pools socialize, without a nudge or sly wink.

Canadian Tire - Destination Spring 3

Responsible young parents turn Spring Cleaning into Family Fun – note tips on how to work efficiently and safely. No Laurel & Hardy slapstick antics here. Do not want to send the wrong message – might be held legally responsible if accidents should occur.

Canadian Tire - Destination Spring 4

….. A different time and place, where values, beliefs and ideologies are slowly, subtly changing. Mom wears jeans now like Dad, just a bit more leg showing at the ankle.

Miss that Old Gent and the Pretty Blonde – cheeky fun and an attempt to market by way of familiar entertainment tropes …… now the entertainment & characters are saved for the television/online commercials.

As they say, the humour is a “guy thing”.