The detective as intellectual, polymath, rationalistic robot. The detective as tough guy, loner, alcoholic, anti-Red, unfeeling womanizer. The detective as mystic, interpreter of divine signs, holy seer. The detective as bureaucrat, as the incorruptible moralist who cleans up the crooked town. The detective as lover, as desirous romantic, as the seducer and seduced. The detective as a chain-smoking, ulcerated obsessive, voyeur, possessed with revealing an unintelligible truth. The detective as bumbler, fool, loser, outsider, the one who gets everything wrong. The detective as everyman. The detective as everywoman. The detective as aristocrat. The detective as anachronism. The detective as revolutionary and reactionary. The detective as writer and the writer as detective.
The list goes on. The doctor, the historian, the housewife, the scientist, the widow, the witness as detective. The detective is often an amateur, maybe literally a lover, who cannot ignore the events that force him or her to open an investigation. The detective is, as Auden wrote in Detective Story, an 'exasperated amateur/ Who's always on the spot by chance before us.' Yes, always on the spot, but put there by what?
The answer everyone knows: by a body, murder, a disappearance, death. Maybe that is why, as a political allegory, the detective is always a useful figure. A body is found, someone is dead, someone goes missing, and others are too numb to care, but for some unspoken reason -- and it must remain unspoken -- the detective goes about solving the case. The detective might be aloof, just doing a job, collecting a fee, but this detachment and its economy are feigned. 'It's okay with me,' is the throwaway line of Philip Marlowe in Robert Altman's The Long Goodbye, but the murder at the center of the story is the one thing with which he cannot be okay. Marlowe knows, like Auden's detective, that 'Someone must pay for/ Our loss of happiness, our happiness itself.'
And then there is the detective story without solution, reliable narrator, clear plot or rational motive. Paul Auster's New York Trilogy, a collection of novels lacking conclusions, solid characters and plotlines typical for the genre, has been called by some 'anti-detective stories.' These novels undermine the form of the detective story itself, its rationality, its clear morality. The detective is no longer an absolute cartographer of crime, all seeing, certain and rational. For Auster's detective, the facts are out of grasp; the plots are too large to be understood. The search becomes an end in itself, an investigation of an investigation. If every detective story is in some sense an exercise in theology, then the universe of the 'anti-detective story' is atheological, a mystery without a revelation.