american literature · dissertation · Ethnicity Studies · graduate school · Native American Studies

notes on Todd Downing

I’m working on the final chapter in my dissertation. The focus is Todd Downing, an Oklahoma-born Choctaw who wrote detective fiction in the 1930s and 1940s.

His featured detective, Hugh Rennert, works for the U.S. Department of the treasury–work that often takes him into Mexico where he finds himself the witness or bystander in murder cases.

The books are delightful reads–good sleuthy stuff with a bit of melodrama thrown in–and also interesting because of the portrayal of European and American figures within the texts.  The novels, while taking place in Mexico and so a bit different from the Oklahoma and New Mexico texts that make up my other chapters, still fit in terms of the themes of travel, and the commodification of people and objects.

Downing’s attention to print culture is especially interesting–telegrams, books, newspapers, and train tables all feature in his novels. It’s a testament both to the spread of print culture, its increasing accessibility, and the technological changes that made this possible. Print objects also feature in the other texts I’m studying, so it’s a fascinating correlation for me.

I still need to read more of his work, to draw conclusions on these threads and themes, but I’m happy that he’s fitting into my dissertation in the way I envisioned, and also happy that the threads I suspected to be present throughout the writing of the interwar years are, in fact, there.


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