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Can detective fiction be illuminated by the psychology of religion? In this article I show (1) that classic detective fiction rhetorically accords the “privileged epistemic access” to mental states that we intuitively assign to punitive supernatural agents to the literary detective; and (2) that viewing the genre through this lens addresses several inconsistencies that have thus far resisted easy solution in the critical literature. I then make the argument (3) that this generic blurring results from competing historical pressures that simultaneously engendered greater levels of secularism and an increased propensity to believe in supernatural punishers in nineteenth century urban populations.


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