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Title:The case of the Indian detective: Native American mystery novels
Author(s):Sklaney, Jr., Lawrence J.
Director of Research:Parker, Robert D
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Parker, Robert D
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Byrd, Jodi; Hunt III, Irvin J; Tahmahkera, Dustin S
Department / Program:English
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):Native American Literature
Mystery Genre
Representations of Indians
Popular Culture
Abstract:Though antecedents stretch back at least to Judson R. Taylor’s Phil Scott, the Indian Detective: A Tale of Startling Mysteries (1882), the Indian detective did not captivate the public imagination until the Western lost force as a vehicle for telling stories about Indians. Tony Hillerman and his 1970s competitors created Mysteries that carry over much of the Western’s DNA but put the sheriff’s badge on an Indian, wresting the Indian as anti-establishment symbol from the 1960s counterculture and enlisting him in service of Law and Order. With its imperative that a tantalizing puzzle resolve into a rational solution, the Mystery genre is well-suited for continuing the centuries-old project of making the Indian legible to non-Indians because it can satisfy the dual impulses of the “Dialectic of Diversity,” exoticism and assimilation. Non-Indian readers want Indians to be both different (strange, mystical, more in tune with nature, etc.) and the same (sharing recognizable desires, worldviews, motivations, etc.). The genre that teases with the unknown and even the supernatural, but also most celebrates rationality, justice, and perhaps individual agency, has become the preferred venue in which most Americans encounter fictional Indians. Hillerman’s success has helped produce a subgenre’s worth of imitators. Most of these Native sleuths have been invented by non-Native writers, who tend to follow the dictates of the genre closely. Their protagonists may grumble about police bureaucracy, but they apprehend criminals without seriously challenging American jurisprudence and settler state ideological frameworks. The relatively few Indians who have written Mysteries with indigenous protagonists, by contrast, have tended to resist, adapt, and transform the genre, and their novels less often ratify “official” law enforcement. Apparently, they find that conventional Mysteries, with their emphasis on individualism and their reassurance that justice will prevail, do not allow Native American writers to tell the kinds of stories they want about Indians.
Issue Date:2020-02-11
Rights Information:Copyright 2019 Lawrence J. Sklaney Jr.
Date Available in IDEALS:2020-08-27
Date Deposited:2020-05

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