Document Type


Date of Degree Completion

Spring 2022

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


English Literature

Committee Chair

James Seth

Second Committee Member

Sarah Sillin

Third Committee Member

Lila Harper


In a genre like detective fiction, known for affirming social order, the refusal to enforce rule of law seems like an anomaly. The number of famous detectives who have let a perpetrator go suggests that release of suspects is not a break in genre conventions, but is a wider pattern that needs to be acknowledged. This study investigates that pattern by measuring the complexity of thirteen detectives: eleven of whom release perpetrators and two of whom do not, to serve as a control group. The higher the complexity of the character, the more human the character seems to be. The reasons why the detectives make the choice they do is also examined. Characters such as Dr. George Abbershaw and several others allow perpetrators to go because they are victims of an earlier crime. Other detectives, like Hercule Poirot, want to avoid the consequences that would befall innocents as a result of the situation if the perpetrator is punished. Some, like Sherlock Holmes, follow their own moral code rather than the dictates of the law. Many police detectives privilege the duty to protect people over the one to punish them. These cases reveal that the detective genre is about the struggle of humanity to uphold an ideal of justice impossible to reach. With such being the case, it is expected that detectives who make the choice to allow a criminal to go free are more complex and so more human than detective characters adhering the normal pattern of crime followed by punishment.