The Horrible Last-Minute Sprint of the Transcendental Subject: Sven Elvestad, Siegfried Kracauer, and the Detective Novel
Keywords:golden age crime fiction, detective fiction, Sven Elvestad, translation, Norwegian literature, philosophy of detective fiction
Sven Elvestad (1884-1934), alias Stein Riverton, wrote 115 books, among them ninety-eight detective novels, eighty-five of which were translated into German in his lifetime, alongside translations into other languages. Elvestad is Norway’s most important crime fiction writer of the early golden age (1910s and 1920s). His acknowledged masterpiece, Jernvognen (1909, translated to English as The Iron Chariot in 2019), uses a device that was later famously attributed to Agatha Christie. Moreover, Elvestad’s Death Checks in at the Hotel (1921) is quoted in Siegfried Kracauer’s The Detective Novel: A Philosophical Treatise (1925) in the central chapter “The Hotel Lobby,” on the detective novel’s “curious mysteries: an expression with an ironic and ambiguous meaning,” pointing at “the distorted higher mystery . . . hidden in the totality of the legal and illegal activities taking place.” In Elvestad’s novels, the relation between rationality and mystery is also presented in terms of ongoing conflicts between law, legality, and the illegal. In this article, I follow Kracauer’s analyses of the detective, the police, the villain, the plots, and the investigation processes in the detective novel with examples from Elvestad’s novels.