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.
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.
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.
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.