Glimpsing the Holocaust in post-war British detective fiction

2019-03-22T12:48:21Z (GMT) by V Stewart
Scholars including David Cesarani have noted that there was no concerted effort to represent what we now term the Holocaust in British fiction of the immediate post-war years. What can be found in novels from the late 1940s and early 1950s, however, are suggestive glimpses of how British understandings of the Holocaust were beginning to develop. Detective fiction is a useful point of reference because in the interwar years this form was typically based on simplified or even stereotyped characters, with the war years and the post-war period signalling a turn to greater realism. As Gill Plain has argued, detective fiction expresses a desire both to see and to evade seeing the dead body. Plain explores this as an expression of post-First World War cultural anxieties but, in the wake of the widespread circulation in Britain of images of the opening up of the concentration and death camps, such ambivalence takes on a particular significance. Examining two quite different examples, Agatha Christie’s A Murder Is Announced (1950) and Ellis Peters’s Fallen into the Pit (1951), Stewart’s article reveals contrasting early engagements with the Holocaust. Both novels feature peripheral characters who are refugees from Europe, and whose stories, although told only in fragments, nevertheless destabilize the process of reinstating order that is the usual narrative trajectory of the detective novel. Stewart will argue that such glimpses of the Holocaust are as telling about contemporary attitudes as more concerted, explicit and direct engagements might be.