English professor investigates the suspenseful, mysterious world of detective novels

William MarlingHalloween is associated with the creepy and crawly, shrieks and screams and, perhaps above all else, mystery and suspense.

For three decades, Case Western Reserve University English professor William Marling has followed these mysterious trails year round, investigating fictitious detectives in American literature and those that make it to the big screen in American noir films. He then posts his findings on his website detnovel.com, which has become the popular go-to site for detective-novel information.

“… I never thought it would get this big or go for so long. It’s become a huge project,” Marling said.

Marling started the site nearly 12 years ago, first as an offshoot of the CWRU English department’s website. Four iterations of the site have followed, and now the independent detnovel.com receives several thousand hits a day.

But Marling has not always been an avid detective novel reader or fan; rather, his literary interests lean toward American poets like William Carlos William.

Researching detective novels was pure happenstance of being in the right place at the right time in the early 1980s. University of Utah English Professor Kenneth Eble, a field editor for Twayne Publishing, told Marling, a former student of his, about a writing opportunity on American detective novels. Handing Marling a list of authors, Elbe suggested he pick one.

Scanning the list, Marling saw the author of the Maltese Falcon, Dashiell Hammett.  He had read the book, liked it and agreed to write a reference book, which was eventually published in 1983. This book spurred the writing of a second reference work on detective-novel writer Raymond Chandler in 1986.

The two books, now out of print, are part of the top 100 American writers published by MacMillan.

Wanting to spread his interest in American detective novels more quickly and to a wider audience, Marling created detnovel.com as a place to post a critical mass of academic research that often sat in libraries or went unpublished.

“Not all research is easily accessible to people. This is,” he said.