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Maureen Corrigan's guilty pleasures

Regarding that stint at "Fresh Air," Corrigan said last Thursday, "Maybe four times a year I can work in a mystery, and every time I get email. 'Why are you reviewing this junk?'"

Corrigan contended that mysteries are worthwhile for more than their recreation, riveting story plots and serious characters. It's the subject of mysteries that interests her.

"Mysteries introduced a new subject to literature -- they are about thinking."

Beginning with Edgar Allen Poe's "Murders in the Rue Morgue" (1841) -- Poe called his mysteries "urban shock" stories and "tales of ratiocination" (as opposed to his "tales of terror") -- and Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes reprise (he returns his character from the dead), "The Hound of the Baskervilles" (1903), Corrigan laid out a case for how this popular fiction has endured as an exploration of epistemology, or a working out of how we know what we think we know. Corrigan noted that Freud was just laying out his own notions of the unconscious at the time "Hound" appeared, with its "great champion of rationality almost getting sucked into the mire near the end" of a story set in wild, formless landscape.

Paretsky's "Hardball," on the other hand, descends from the U.S. contribution of the "gallows, guns and guts" school of Dashiell Hammet, Raymond Chandler and Mickey Spillane.

"I fell in love with the 'hard-boiled' tradition to avoid my dissertation about 19th century social critics," Corrigan said. "Someone gave me a copy of Hammet's 'Red Harvest' and the jacket said it was about labor unions. My dad had been a shop steward and I was feeling alienated at [the University of] Penn. I began to feel that what his 'Continental op' -- an op is slang for detective -- investigated was not all that different than what Carlyle and Ruskin did -- alienation, class tensions and, as Chandler's Philip Marlowe said, 'a world gone wrong.'"

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