Thomas Kyd’s is a transitional type of detective fiction. His Sam Phelan shares some attributes with earlier detectives and differs somewhat from the typical police detective of later crime fiction. Although Phelan’s investigations are among the earliest fictional ones that make use of the expertise of professional cohorts, the solutions remain largely the personal triumphs of a resourceful hero. The subsequent development of the police procedural demanded a different kind of protagonist and more systematic attention to the department. Other features of Kyd’s novels, such as his conventional dramatic climaxes, were scarcely compatible with this new genre.
The hybrid nature of Kyd’s Phelan novels has obscured their originality for many historians of mystery and detective fiction. Phelan exemplified many people, in police and other work, who attained vocational competence before World War II only later to find themselves laboring amid specialized professionals. The Phelan type of detective actually did exist but rapidly became obsolete. In the interests of realism the police procedural sent its Phelans to pasture and focused on the exigencies of the precinct. Thus, Phelan can no longer be replicated; he can, however, still be enjoyed.