(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

S. S. Van Dine is a significant figure in the history of detective fiction, both as a theorist and as a practitioner of the genre. As a theorist, he articulated a strict code of “fairness” in the plotting of the detective novel and enunciated important ideas about the nature of the genre’s appeal. The Benson Murder Case (1926) and The Canary Murder Case (1927) attracted a new audience for detective fiction in the United States, bringing it to the attention and serious consideration of intellectual and sophisticated readers and initiating what has come to be known as the Golden Age of American detective fiction. In the 1920’s and 1930’s, Van Dine’s Philo Vance novels were the most widely read detective stories in the United States. They inspired thirty-one motion pictures, filmed between 1929 and 1947, and a popular weekly radio series, Philo Vance, during the 1940’s.


(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Braithwaite, William Stanley. “S. S. Van Dine—Willard Huntington Wright.” In Philo Vance Murder Cases. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1936. Biography of the author of the Philo Vance series and of his fictional alter ego.

Crawford, Walter B. “The Writings of Willard Huntington Wright.” Bulletin of Bibliography 24 (May-August, 1963): 11-16. Checklist of Wright’s writings, both as himself and as S. S. Van Dine.

Garden, Y. B. “Philo Vance: An Impressionistic Biography.” In Philo Vance Murder Cases. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1936. Fictional biography of Van Dine’s master sleuth, based on clues to the character’s past dropped over the course of his adventures.

Loughery, John. Alias S. S. Van Dine. New York: Scribner, 1992. Combined biography of Wright and critical examination of Van Dine’s novels. Bibliographic references and index.

Panek, LeRoy Lad. The Origins of the American Detective Story. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2006. Study of the beginnings and establishment of American detective-fiction conventions, focusing especially on the replacement of the police by the private detective and the place of forensic science in the genre. Provides context for understanding Van Dine’s work.

Penzler, Otto. S. S. Van Dine. New York: Mysterious Bookshop, 1999. Literary biography of Van Dine by the owner of the Mysterious Bookshop, who was also the editor of The Armchair Detective.

Roth, Marty. Foul and Fair Play: Reading Genre in Classic Detective Fiction. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1995. A post-structural analysis of the conventions of mystery and detective fiction. Examines 138 short stories and works from the 1840’s to the 1960’s. Contains some discussion of Van Dine’s rules for writing mysteries.