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Classification of detective stories

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Chuyển đổi dữ liệu18.11.2017
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2.1.3. Classification of detective stories Classification methods

In this thesis, criteria of Western classic detective stories serve as the foundation for the classification of Vietnamese detective stories. Vietnamese detective stories in the first half of the 20thcentury adapted two variations of Western detective genre which are thrilling/ mysterious and classic detective stories. As other variations were only approached in the following periods, only the criteria of the formerly mentioned variations are applied in this thesis.

It is complicated to classify detective stories in the first half of the 20th century because the interrelationship of genres still stays as a controversial topic, which leads to a wide variety of classification criteria. Action, romance, detective novels, etc. have different name but similar nature. When a consensus on genre features is reached, the popularity of a fiction work merely relies on writers’ capacity, not the genres themselves. Categories of detective stories

Vietnamese detective stories are classified into the following categories:

+ Mysterious detective stories: mysterious crime cases

+ Deductive detective stories:stories influenced by the “puzzle theory” of Western classic detective stories.

+ Romantic – heroic – action detective stories: stories influenced by the combination of the traditional literature, Chinese crime stories and Western detective stories.

This classification requires further research. However, its uniqueness can be observed through the similarities and repeated rules of a genre.


2.2.1. Stages of formation and development Crime stories in traditional literature – a factor to the formation of detective stories

In Vietnamese folktales, there are stories about mandarins being in charge of investigation, most noticeably is a representative work “A case against a tree”. Among crime stories written before the 20th century, The case of a mysterious bird by Truong Van Chi (1890) often receives a lot of attention of researchers. It is said that “If the content this novel is classified of detective stories, it can be named the first detective story in Vietnamese literature”. In general, before 1900, there was no detective story written in Vietnamese language and in the format of a novel. Detective stories in the first half of the 20th century

- The first period (1990-1930): In this pivotal stage, detective stories had not had a big development. It was relatively easy for reader to notice moral lessons as the main theme of the stories. Characters’ personalities were built to illustrate moral regulations (Ba Lau – a talented burglar, A national treasure raider, Stories about the past and present, A shame of a thousand years, A daughter’s revenge for her father). Detective stories that contain tragic – romantic – martial art elements, especially those by the Southern authors, reached their height of development. However, these works only reflect the “formula” of detective stories at a basic level.

- The second period (1930 to the first half of the 20thcentury): After 1930s, detective stories which bear the influence of Western literature witnessed a strong development. The Lu and Pham Cao Cung can be considered the representative authors of this genre.

From 1945 to 1954: This is the recession period of detective stories.

2.2.2. Rules of operating of detective stories The adaptation of the traditional literature

Vietnamese detective stories in the first half of the 20 century do not inherit much from the traditional literature as fiction works that contain martial art elements or details of deduction were not popular in Vietnam at that time. However, motifs of folktales and Nom stories were used by detective authors.

Detectives and criminals carry features of good and bad men that reflected in the traditional literature. The effort of developing a new genre based on the inherence features from traditional literature resulted in a new type of detective stories with unique features, distinguished from other traditional genres which satisfies readers’ demand and is in the same time relevant to the modernization course of Vietnamese literature. The adaptation of foreign literature

+ The adaptation of Chinese chapter novels

The structure with chapters is not applied in the whole work but in some chapters. In order to satisfy new readers, writers gradually separated from the classic pattern of chapters (a Reunion, Gold and blood, The Blow, Le Phong – the journalist, Handwritings, the Mud-stained stock, Dang family’s treasure, the Lame Monk, etc.). The adaptation with adjustments reflects not only the connection with traditional narrative novels but also the creativity of detective authors in the initial stage of the formation of a new genre. Before 1930, this pattern was widely applied as it suited the current readers but after that the appearance started to decrease.

+The adaptation of Western modern novels

This is a common trend of the age, not the choice of a few individuals. In the first detective story which contains romantic – action – righteous elements was Ba Lau – the talented burglar by Bien Ngu Nhy (1917), the structure of Western modern novels was applied with clear and fluent language expressions. The influence of Western literature can be clearly observed in the works by The Lu and Pham Cao Cung. One of the most influential author is Edgar Poe with complex story plots, multi groups of characters, and the disarranged time hierarchy.

The adaptation of Western literature is reflected in these factors: plot, narrative technique, and language expression. Detective authors tend to apply more traces from Vietnamese cultural identity, less simulation or invention.

+ The combination of Western detective stories and Eastern crime stories.

Vietnamese detective stories can be said to represent a harmonious East-West combination on various aspects. Most of the stories contain elements of romance, action or martial arts and logical deduction applied in crime investigation. Detectives possess the Western style rational capacity and also the Eastern chivalry.

2.2.3. Detective stories in the development course of Vietnamese modern novels

Detective stories make a positive impact on Vietnamese readers’ “reading culture”. Sometimes, detective stories have a dominant popularity over other literature genres and gain “best-seller” titles. Many of works by Bien Ngu Nhy, Phu Duc, The Lu, Pham Cao Cung, etc. created “waves of fever”, which had not happened before in Vietnamese’s intellectual life. This can be considered as the recognized position of detective stories in literature world. However, if the focus is only on the entertainment aspect, the other values of detective stories are neglected. In reality, this genre implicates many important values and functions on educational and moral aspects.

Detective stories have their own way to draw great favor from readers (and for readers’ self-education/ awareness). They can be used as examples for self-correction or judgement of other people. Each work inspires the desire for ideal moral and good deeds in readers through the good things described in the stories.


It is a challenge to identify Vietnamese detective stories because there remain a great of controversial issues related to this genre, even about its definition. Based on the findings by other researchers, this chapter presents a new statement on Vietnamese detective stories as: A narrative genre, describing the investigations conducted by detectives based on their logic deduction. Detective stories possess unique features of plots, structures, narrative techniques and language expressions.

Vietnamese detective stories are the combination of different genres, born from the adaptation of Eastern and Western culture and literature. Under the influence of cultural-historical condition, Vietnamese detective stories revolute from a entertainment function to conduct other functions of literature.

Vietnamese detective stories have a “late appearance” but a rapid development. Within half a century, the image of a new literature genre has been formed and on the course of completion. From the first half of the 20th century with the pivotal works, by the middle of this century, Vietnamese detective stories have obtained significant achievements, making noticeable contribution to the development of Vietnamese modern literature.




3.1.1. Detectives Detectives: Individuals with talent and righteousness

In order to become detectives, skills of handling difficult situation are indispensable but morality and ideology also play critical roles. Detectives in Vietnamese stories have great compassion for other people, especially victim of social injustice. This character attribute equips them with the determination to overcome challenges while investigating crimes. Detectives can belong to different social classes with various professions and become detectives under different circumstances and purposes. They share the similar characteristics with Western detectives. The highlighted feature of Vietnamese detective is that they do not care about profits as stated “Detectives are not professional agents so they do not charge people for their help…”

Detectives can punish criminals on the name of justice, which serves as an ideal image to community. People can find the model of talented and righteous people in detective stories, who can satisfy their desire for equality and justice. Detectives’ accidental involvement in crimes

Detectives in Vietnamese stories involve in crimes mostly by accidental events, which are skillfully set up by the authors.

Accidental factors have become a typical motif in the plots of Vietnamese detective stories. For professional detectives, accidental factors can happen but in some few cases. In contrary, in the cases of “non-professional” ones, whose involvement in investigations is merely from compassion or courtesy, accidental incidents are more often used by authors. Detectives’ combination of logical thinking with tactics to resolve mysteries

In Vietnamese detective stories in the first half of the 20th century, detectives make “obvious” and “simple” logical analysis, either deduction or induction, which were relevant tothe level of awareness of Vietnamese people at that period of time. In most cases, detectives’ analysis is based on scientific and real-life evidences together with comprehensive knowledge of all fields.

Using tactics in solving problems in daily life reflects Vietnamese distinguished personality. This is practical, pragmatic, skillful but also cheeky and mischievous (The cigarette pack, Handwritings). Thank to tactics or personal skills, detectives can defeat criminals, which might not be done with merely deduction or observation at crime scenes. Investigation techniques play an important part in detective stories. However, decoding secrets through letters or handwritings serves as an “intellectual game” and clearly reflects the Vietnamese characteristics. Therefore, this technique can only be attractive to Vietnamese readers.

3.1.2. Criminals Man slaughtering in robberies

Man slaughtering for valuable assets is the most disgusting crime. It is worse if criminals are intellectuals because they can be more cunning and manipulative when committing the crimes. In addition, crimes in detective stories can be kidnapping or impostering children in rich families to gain benefits in the future or ordering the killing of business partner.

Due to the ineffectiveness of law enforcement and degradation of moral, Vietnamese society in the first half of the 20th century witnessed the emergence of new crimes which were similar to those in Western countries together with underground power such as criminal gangs and closed associations. There was a wide variety of bold criminals who took risks to commit murders.

When crime cases are solved, criminals must be punished. Punishments for those who commit crimes in detective are reasonable and understandable. This also serves as an educational lesson that detective authors would like to convey to readers. Manslaughtering in love affairs

In Vietnamese detective stories, crimes related to emotional life (love, jealousy, adultery, cheating, etc.) are dominant over other types. Culprits often have close relationship with victims but commit crimes because of their selfishness or blindness. It is quite surprising that there are even female criminals in detective stories such as Nhung (The lady in violet),Ms Hue (The autumn moon), Ky Phat’s stepmother (The mud-stained sock). In addition, there are criminals because of greediness or selfishness.

Under the influence of the traditional literature, similar motifs and formulas are applied in describing criminals. Specifically, wrongdoings are only generally described through mysterious deeds, lacking of detailed psychological analysis or physical traits.


3.2.1. Spatial features Urban areas

Busy commercial streets in Hanoi, exclusive mansions, expensive restaurants, bars filled up with opium smoke, night trams, and vast and modern cities (e.g. Saigon) in the South are used as locations in Vietnamese detective stories in the first half of the 20th century. However, beyond the flashy façade lies a different society with unexpected risks. Crimes are attached to social issues or cunning tricks of riches who want to become richer by using evil calculations and conspiracies.

Important incidents often take place in narrow space, the familiar living environment of helpers in rich families. The story develops as investigation space is enlarged when detectives go over boundaries and restrictions to seek for evidences to solve the case. In some stories, the authors limit the crime in closed and narrow space, which normally is within a family or a ward.

In addition, there is a special “space” that is integrated into the real space such as caves, rooms, mountain gorges, etc. to increase the thrilling/ mysterious color of the stories (Jade vendor, Gold and blood, Ba Lau – the talented burglar). Forested areas

Forested areas present not romantic or poetic but mysterious, exotic and risky elements. Forests are described through a mysterious view and ghostly sounds which implicates unexpected events, deaths, etc. All of these details create the detective “ambience”. Describing nature then serves as a special technique in highlighting characters’ personalities and psychological changes.

In order to strengthen the mysterious and thrilling mode, authors use other details such as light, shadow and even silence. This helps make detective genre interesting and mysterious to readers. It can be taken as a unique feature of Vietnamese detective stories.

3.2.2. Temporal features Linear time

Time expressions in detective stories are relatively diversified, e.g. direction (reversible, irreversible), rhyme (quick, slow). Events or incidents are connected through time hierarchy. It is the writers’ intention to arrange details in the story according to a fix time schedule based on the real-time or historical patterns. This helps the story feel real to readers. In addition, “night scenes” are used in detective stories to increase the mysterious color. By using temporal techniques, detective writers can divide the story into different parts and save the climax for the next chapter to attract readers’ eagerness. Non-linear time

Non-linear time is a narrative technique which help increase the dramatic color of detective stories. In order to “save” an investigation which tends to reach it dead-end, writers have to add in details from different points of time. This increases the complexity and diversity of temporal features of a detective story e.g. present-past pattern.

In some works, remembrance can be applied to create the complex time hierarchy, e.g. present-past-present. For detective stories that contain romantic – martial art – action elements, temporal elements are used in fighting or chasing scenes. As investigation is the focus of detective stories, the application of temporal elements is limited and sometimes rigid.

Spatial and temporal elements are not the ultimate techniques for increasing the attractiveness of detective stories as the most dominant feature lies in the investigation itself.


The world created in detective stories has special features. It not only provides a description of society but also human life and destiny, which helps writers convey messages to readers.

In Vietnamese detective stories, the most highlighted feature of detectives is righteousness, fighting for justice, not profit. For many reasons, Vietnamese detectives share similarities and differences with Western ones. They have unique characteristics which are revealed through complicated and romantic relationships e.g. knight – beauty as in traditional literature. This motif is though not popular in Western detective stories. In addition, crimes are solved by “Vietnamized” tactics. It is similar for criminals with strong reflection of Vietnamese characteristics and society in a certain period of history. However, as criminals are not main characters in detective genre, they appear in a relatively generaldescription with traits from both traditional (committing crimes because of greediness) and modern motifs (treasure hunting, smuggling, gang purging, etc.)

One of the important feature of Vietnamese detective stories is the integrated space between urban and forested areas. This combination not only guarantees the logic of the story but also reflects the current cultural, social and historical situations. In addition, detective writers apply temporal elements in describing events and incidents in characters’ lives through diversified patterns e.g. reversible-irreversible, quick-slow. It can be stated that all these above mentioned factors create the unique features of Vietnamese detective stories in the first half of the 20th century.




4.1.1. Story plots of detective stories The concept of story plot

The plot of a detective story must have two prerequisite elements which are crime investigation (event) and detective (character). A story can be named detective stories without these two elements. Event and character are connected/ organized through a united structure. Western typical detective plots

+ Thrilling/ mysterious plots.

+ Classic plots: based on “puzzle” pattern and “game” theory.

+ American modern plots.

+ “Noir” plots.

+ Scandaleuse plots : lists of actions, a lack of narration.

+ Crime plots.

4.1.2. Plots of Vietnamese detective stories Single plots

With narrative pattern, detective stories are developed with linear time and cause-consequence relationship. All details are arranged according to time hierarchy and narrative time overlaps with “plot” time. This can be taken as the feature of a newly coined literature genre that still carry traces of the traditional literature which was translated from Chinese novels into Vietnamese language in the first half of the 20th century.

Applying plots from traditional literature provides writers with practice time and readers with the initial approach to a new literature genre. It is quite understandable that writers could not create completed works or famous Western detective icons in this pivotal stage of detective stories. Vietnamese writer had to base their creativity on the adaptation of other literatures in order to create stories that were suitable to the current situation. Multiple plots

In detective stories with multiple plots, there are generally two sides, good and bad, which have contrast ideologies, morals, actions, etc. “Good” side represents justice, ideology, beauty, etc. and vice versa. “Good” people are detectives, police officers, inspectors and those who have righteousness. “Bad” people are criminals, murderers, burglars, and gang members, etc. These two groups interact through the length of the story. There is a wide variety of multiple plots such as “feuilleton”, romance-investigation, drama-investigation, etc. In general, detective stories with multiple plots have many characters and complex details. Psychology – investigation plot is often used to make detectives more real-life and then closer to readers.

It was a new phenomenon in Vietnamese literature that detective writers create plots that are similar to Western style crime based on traditional drama.


4.2.1. Points of observation – story-teller First person story-teller

Story-teller is first person, namely “I”. This enable writers to insert personal points-of-view, emotion and characteristics into the narration. First person story-teller creates readers’ trust in the events and people mentioned in the stories. In addition, “I” as the story-teller can explore the complicated psychology and relationships of the characters. This is an important factor in forming the aesthetic effects of detective genre, which implicates that the stories are real, not a product of imagination.

With this technique, the subjective feature in detective stories is highlighted. Story-tellers, with personal deduction and analysis ability are free to express their knowledge and viewpoints. Third person story-teller

Third person story-teller does not have a direct appearance (their existence is hidden or more correctly “switched”). With the story-teller is a third person, the story is told with different viewpoint, language and tone from that of first person one. Narration by the third person (the story-teller created by the writers) expresses the objectiveness and neutrality.

As the third person, story-teller can have a more comprehensive view of reality, human destiny and then transfer it into the story. Story-tellers stay out of all involved people and events and leave the narration to each characters. In some extents, story-tellers act merely as a note-taker, writing down what is told. Story-tellers rarely get involved with any incidents or actions.

4.2.2. Narrative language Dialogues

Writers assign characters with language expressions that reflect their social status, position and profession. Government officers such as mandarins, inspectors, or rich people have arrogant, powerful and “bureaucratic” tone (Gold and blood, The jade vendor). Whereas, detectives have the concise and careful language of investigators. Writers have neutral tone with confident attitude (The lame monk, A revenge). Dialogues are used to “combine” narration with guidance (according to drama principles). Dialoguers must have close relationship and mutual understanding (Le Phong – Van Binh, Ky Phat – a friend). In some detective stories, dialogues serve as mind games or competition among detectives in resolving the cases (The cigarette pack, One-eyed man). For detective stories with third person story-teller, dialogues merely describe actions and thoughts of the main characters to explain the investigation.

In many cases, characters have self-dialogues to question or argue with themselves. With this narrative technique, story-tellers link “internal” and “external” points of observation to narrow the gap between the story-teller and characters and provide readers with a deeper insight of the characters being described. Impacts of localized features

Localized features are expressed through various factors besides the local dialects used in detective stories. Story-tellers provide not only the content of the story but also the cultural values which lie deeply underneath the language surface (A terrible story, Howls at night, Gold and blood, etc.). There is a wide variety of local features such as ethnic names (Tho, Man, Nung, Khach, etc.) which creates a trace of mountainous areas. This is also a technique to generate the authenticity for the stories. Localized features can also be observed through geographical details (North – Central – South) and familiar locations. In order to narrow the gap between the stories and readers, detective writers often use language expressions of daily life or localized.

The usage of local dialects not only creates unique features for detective stories but also contributes to the rupture from scholar and conventional language expressions of the medieval literature, an important shift in the modernization of Vietnamese literature in the first half of the 20th century.

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