Helen Eustis Analysis


(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Helen Eustis has a gift for portraying characters in various states of mental anxiety, ranging from the normal through the highly neurotic to the psychotic. In the post-World War II era, she helped introduce into crime fiction a new quality of realism and sophistication in the portrayal of both the villain and the victim—the guilty and the innocent—which foreshadowed the development of the psychological plot. Her stories show how people placed in threatening circumstances react in bizarre, often incriminating ways.

Influenced by Edgar Allan Poe and Fyodor Dostoevski, to whom she alludes in The Horizontal Man (1946), Eustis adds a note of clinical realism to the gothic terrors experienced by her characters by explaining their behavior in terms of the pathology of the criminally insane. In The Horizontal Man, Eustis combined knowledge of abnormal psychology with mastery of the genre’s least-likely-suspect convention to produce a tour de force rivaling Agatha Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (1926).


(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Barzun, Jacques, and Wendell Hertig Taylor. “Preface to The Horizontal Man.” In A Book of Prefaces to Fifty Classics of Crime Fiction, 1900-1950. New York: Garland, 1976. Preface by two preeminent scholars of mystery and detective fiction, arguing for the novel’s place in the annals of the genre.

Nover, Peter, ed. The Great Good Place? A Collection of Essays on American and British College Mystery Novels. New York: P. Lang, 1999. Compilation of essays focused on crime fiction set at college campuses or feature academic characters. A valuable source of contextualization for The Horizontal Man.

Peach, Linden. Masquerade, Crime, and Fiction: Criminal Deceptions. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006. Extended study of the theme and portrayal of disguise (both literal and figurative) in mystery and detective fiction. Provides perspective for understanding Eustis’s work.

Piekarski, Vicki. Introduction to Westward the Women: An Anthology of Western Stories by Women, edited by Vicki Piekarski. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1988. Includes discussion of Eustis’s contributions to genre fiction.