Reluctant Sleuths, True Detectives

By Jason Jacobs

Subjects: Film Studies
Series: SUNY series, Horizons of Cinema
Hardcover : 9781438492230, 264 pages, February 2023
Paperback : 9781438492247, 264 pages, August 2023

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Table of contents

Introduction: The Long Goodbye

1. Out of the Past

2. Notorious

3. Vertigo

4. Chinatown

Conclusion: True Detectives

Explores the figure of the detective as a pursuer of knowledge in four noir films.


Reluctant Sleuths, True Detectives examines the detective figure in four noir and neo-noir films: Out of the Past (1947), Notorious (1946), Vertigo (1958), and Chinatown (1974). Exploring the way that these characters each move from an initial state of reluctant passivity to one of passionate engagement with the world around them, it questions the cinematic forces required to motivate and move them. In its close examinations of each film, the book meditates on the detectives' hunts and how they interact with the cinematic apparatus that captures and presents them to an audience, and it tracks the receptive experience of these films in relation to these questions of motivation and movement.

Jason Jacobs is Professor of Film and Television Studies at the University of Queensland in Australia. His previous books include David Milch and Deadwood.


"Jacobs does a wonderful job of drawing us inside the world not only of the films but of the interpreter's and viewer's pursuit of meaning alongside the detective figure. Beyond the inherent value of its close readings, the book's greatest strength is the larger implications of its commitment to the 'true detective' figure. Jacobs makes a compelling case that the detective is something of an authentic seeker of communal meaning in a world bereft of social communion, a world otherwise adrift in mediated isolation. It's a convincing conclusion and one that the study earns, through its close and patient attention to detective work in all the films." — Steven Rybin, Minnesota State University, Mankato

"Jacobs's book contributes new readings to the long-running debates about morality in the detective film, drawing on carefully chosen case studies to unpack a passionate argument about why we do what we do—and why we fall in love with the films we fall for." — Daniel Varndell, University of Winchester