Inspecting Psychology takes a sleuth’s magnifying glass to the interplay between psychology, psychiatry and detective fiction to provide a unique examination of the history of psychology. As psychology evolved over the centuries, so did crime writing. This book looks at how the psychological movements of the time influenced classic authors from Agatha Christie and Arthur Conan Doyle to Dorothy Sayers and Georges Simenon, to reveal an enduring connection between psychology and the human need to solve mysteries.

Some key puzzles. Why did Agatha Christie make so many doctors killers in her books? Why did Simenon not become a psychiatrist? Did Lord Peter Wimsey have all the charm, passion and tenderness no lover gave Dorothy Sayers?

Beginning with the earliest origins of psychology in Greek literature alongside the Oedipal story and the ideas of Aristotle, the book travels through to the late 18th and 19th centuries and the work of Edgar Allan Poe who wrote the first detective story proper. With the birth of modern psychology in the late 19th century, the growing fascination with understanding behaviour coincided with the popular whodunnit. Readers are whisked through the development of psychology in the 20th century and beyond, from the impact of shell shock in the First World War and the early understanding of mental illness through to the growth of psychoanalysis and the ideas of Freud, behaviourism and attachment theory. At every stop on this original rattle through history, David Cohen reveals the influence these psychological movements had on crime writers and their characters and plots.

The result is a highly enjoyable, engaging read for those interested in how the unique pairing of the history of psychology with the history of the detective novel can unveil insights into the human condition. It should appeal to anyone interested in psychology who wants their subject served with a thriller on the side.

chapter 1|11 pages

The first psychologies

From rock art to the association of ideas

chapter 2|9 pages

Psychology, phrenology and psychiatry

The late 18th–19th centuries and the work of Edgar Allen Poe

chapter 3|4 pages

The birth of modern psychology

1879 and the significance of apparently unconnected events

chapter 4|11 pages

Psychology and mystical experiences

The late 19th century and the work of William James and Conan Doyle, allies in the mystical

chapter 5|12 pages

Puzzles, riddles and Gestalt theory

The early 20th century and the work of G.K. Chesterton

chapter 6|10 pages

The First World War, mental illness and shell shock

The work of Rebecca West and the detective novels of the 1920s

chapter 7|17 pages

Freud, psychoanalysis and the psychology of Agatha Christie

The golden age of detective fiction

chapter 8|20 pages

Individual psychology and the inferiority complex

Lord Peter Wimsey and the work of Dorothy Sayers

chapter 9|12 pages

Theories of learning and the rise of behaviourism

The 1920s and the work of Anthony Berkeley, the innovator who seized up

chapter 10|6 pages

Attachment theory and the work of John Bowlby

Psychology between 1930 and 1945 and the novels of Gladys Mitchell

chapter 11|14 pages

Psychoanalysis and psychiatry from 1930 to 1960

Georges Simenon and the intellectual egos of Sartre and Lacan

chapter 12|10 pages


Contemporary psychology, pathology porn and the enduring link with detective fiction