"Every murderer is probably somebody's old friend." As spoken by Hercule Poirot in The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1920) by Agatha Christie
A bloodcurdling scream! A gasp! A ghostly hand gently tapping upon your chamber door! Heart beating, and thumping and drumming away, faster and faster until... silence. Nevermore. As reality sinks in and your friendly living room comes to life, you remember why you love reading creaky old mystery stories. So, with that in mind, let's look back on some golden old head-scratching mystery stories and the great writers who created them!
Many people call Edgar Allan Poe the "father of the mystery story." I won't argue that. Poe was awesome. Poe was gruesome. Poe was romantic. Poe could also pen a mighty poem. But oh man, could Poe write a mystery! Let's start with his famous Murders in the Rue Morgue (1841) which introduced the first fictional detective Auguste C. Dupin, who would also appear in The Mystery of Marie Roget (1842) and The Purloined Letter (1845).
Next, lets stroll down a bleak, foggy cobblestoned London lane until we encounter The Moonstone (1868) by the kooky Wilkie Collins. Collins was a prolific writer who dabbled in many genres (and much controversy -- poor Queen Elizabeth!) but was certainly centered in Gothic mystery and intrigue. The Woman in White (1860) is about as Gothic as you can get and still be in this century!
After drying your boots and raincoat, it's time to pull out your pipe and pop open a Sherlock Holmes story. A Study in Scarlet (1887) introduced the singularly British detective and his very proper sidekick Dr. Watson. Created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Sherlock Holmes has gone on to be a pop culture icon and you may still hear folks say "Elementary, my dear Watson," while finding a solution to an everyday problem. Forget all the film versions and read a Sherlock Holmes short story instead -- I think they're better.
Although Anna Katherine Green was technically the first woman to pen a detective novel with The Leavenworth Case (1878), let's skip forward to the woman mystery writer: Agatha Christie. Christie wrote more than 80 novels and changed the way generations of avid mystery readers think about murder. Christie introduced the world to the impeccably dressed Hercule Poirot in The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1920). Poirot is still incredibly popular today. Christie also introduced a new type of detective to readers when she created Miss Jane Marple. Miss Marple showed many a murderer that elderly spinsters are a force to be reckoned with!
I would be remiss in my endeavor if I left out Dorothy L. Sayers. She introduced Lord Peter Wimsey to the masses. Wimsey was a "gentleman detective" who solved murders as a hobby. Though Sayers was most active in the 1920's, I think her works went on to influence 1930's and 40's B-movies with detectives like the Falcon (first published in 1940 by Michael Arlen) and The Saint (created by Leslie Charteris in 1930), who solved crimes with panache!
They were smart, tough, gentle and very sophisticated! As a literary footnote, Dorothy Sayers was one of the first authors to have her worked published in paperback form by London publisher Allen Lane. His first paperbacks, called "Penguins, "were issued in 1935 and helped bring novels to a larger audience.
Stay tuned for the next installment of the unofficial history of the mystery! Next time, we'll start with Ellery Queen and graduate up dishonest gumshoes slapping and kicking their way to pulp fiction history!
"It will be found, in fact, that the ingenious are always fanciful, and the truly imaginative never otherwise than analytic." Spoken by Auguste C. Dupin From The Murders in the Rue Morgue (1841) by Edgar Allan Poe.
Dan @ Central