Peter Dickinson Analysis


(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

The first of Peter Dickinson’s James Pibble series, The Glass-Sided Ants’ Nest (1968), signaled the emergence of a major, if offbeat talent. However, even before he had finished with the Pibble series, Dickinson had begun writing nonseries crime novels, many of them with historical settings. One of the most stylistically innovative writers in the field, Dickinson often tests or redefines the boundaries of crime fiction. His characters are unconventional, his settings are exotic or deliberately disturbing, and his plots, especially in the later nonseries novels, vie with mainstream fiction in their complex juxtapositions of past and present. Although Pibble is too eccentric a police officer to have inspired many imitators, Dickinson’s nonseries novels may justly be compared with those of his contemporary, Ruth Rendell, for having creatively blurred the distinctions between crime writing and mainstream fiction, thus clearing fresh ground for the generation of writers who followed.


(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Binyon, T. J. Murder Will Out. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989. Useful discussion of the police procedural in chapter 3, including a brief reflection on Dickinson’s place in the genre.

Casiday, Bruce, and Waltraud Woeller. The Literature of Crime and Detection. New York: Ungar, 1988. Features a chapter titled “The Psychological Thriller” that provides useful background for students of Dickinson’s nonseries novels.

Dickinson, Peter. “Murder in the Manor.” The Armchair Detective (Spring, 1991). Here Dickinson expounds, from the point of view of writer and reader, on the Golden Age crime novel as a literary and psychological artifact.

Scaggs, John. Crime Fiction: New Critical Idiom. New York: Routledge, 2005. Provides useful chapters on the role of the police procedural in maintaining the social status quo and on the parallels between historical research and crime investigation; relevant for Dickinson’s series and nonseries novels.

Symons, Julian. Bloody Murder: From the Detective Story to the Crime Novel—A History. 3d ed. New York: Mysterious Press, 1993. Symons’s analysis of the Golden Age country house mystery is essential for grasping Dickinson’s later novels.