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Origins of Detective Fiction

Mystery is one of the most popular genres of fiction today, and has been for years. Almost every reader has probably read and enjoyed a mystery novel at some point in their life. But, did you ever wonder how it all started? If so, check out some of these early works of detective fiction.

1800s and early 1900s
The Notting Hill Mystery: The First Detective Novel by Charles Warren Adams
Widely acknowledged as the first detective novel, the story is told by insurance investigator Ralph Henderson, who is building a case against the sinister Baron 'R___', suspected of murdering his wife. Henderson descends into a maze of intrigue including a diabolical mesmerist, kidnapping by gypsies, slow-poisoners, a rich uncle's will and three murders.

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes & The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle 
This collection includes many of the famous cases -- and great strokes of brilliance -- that made the legendary Sherlock Holmes one of fiction's most popular creations. With his devoted assistant, Dr Watson, Holmes emerges from his smoke-filled rooms in Baker Street to grapple with the forces of treachery, intrigue and evil in such cases as 'The Speckled Band', in which a terrified woman begs their help in solving the mystery surrounding her sister's death, or 'A Scandal in Bohemia', which portrays a European king blackmailed by his mistress. In 'Silver Blaze' the pair investigate the disappearance of a racehorse and the violent murder of its trainer, while in 'The Final Problem' Holmes at last comes face to face with his nemesis, the diabolical Professor Moriarty.

The Moonstone: A Novel by Wilkie Collins
The Moonstone is a beautiful yellow diamond that was stolen from the statue of a Moon god in India. When Franklin Blake brings it to Rachel Verinder's house in Yorkshire for her birthday, it brings bad luck with it. How many people will the Moonstone hurt? How many must die before the diamond's revenge is complete?

The Innocence of Father Brown by G.K. Chesterton
In 1911, G. K. Chesterton published this first collection of 12 short stories featuring Father Brown, a priest turned detective who combines philosophical and spiritual reasoning with scientific observation to solve crimes. In doing so, Chesterton laid the foundation for future detective figures in literature, such as Hercule Poirot, Miss Marple, Ellery Queen and Nero Wolfe. Chesterton pioneered the cozy mystery, narrowing the scope of the investigation to limited time, limited space, and a limited number of suspects, with all of the clues revealed to the reader as well as to the detective.

The Best American Mystery Stories of the 19th Century, edited and with an introduction by Otto Penzler
An unparalleled treasury of crime, mystery, and murder from the genre's founding century. Includes “Murders in the Rue Morgue” by Edgar Allan Poe.


 

Golden Age of Detective Fiction (1920s and 1930s)
The Mysterious Affair at Styles: The First Hercule Poirot Mystery by Agatha Christie

Hercule Poirot solves his first case in the Agatha Christie novel that started it all. Who poisoned the wealthy Emily Inglethorp and how did the murderer get in and out of her locked bedroom? Suspects abound in the quaint village of Styles St. Mary -- from the heiress's fawning new husband to her two stepsons, her volatile housekeeper, and a pretty nurse who works in a hospital dispensary.


The Murder at the Vicarage: A Miss Marple Mystery by Agatha Christie
This novel is Agatha Christie's first mystery to feature the beloved investigator Miss Marple -- as a dead body in a clergyman's study proves to the indomitable sleuth that no place, holy or otherwise, is a sanctuary from homicide. Miss Marple encounters a compelling murder mystery in the sleepy little village of St. Mary Mead, where under the seemingly peaceful exterior of an English country village lurks intrigue, guilt, deception and death.
 

Lord Peter: The Complete Lord Peter Wimsey Stories by Dorothy L. Sayers
One of the founding mothers of mystery, Dorothy Sayers first introduced the popular character Lord Peter Wimsey in 1923 with the publication of “Whose Body?” Over the next 20 years, more novels and short stories about the aristocratic amateur sleuth appeared, each one as cunningly written as the next. Here are all the Lord Peter Wimsey stories in a single volume, a treasure for any mystery lover. 

Death in the Stocks by Georgette Heyer
Written in 1935, “Death in the Stocks” is the first book in the Inspector Hannasyde series. An English bobbie returning from night patrol finds a corpse in evening dress locked in the stocks on the village green. He identifies the body immediately. Andrew Vereker was not a well-loved man, and narrowing down the suspects is not going to be an easy job. The Vereker family are corrupt and eccentric -- and hardly cooperative.

Resorting to Murder: Holiday Mysteries, edited by Martin Edwards
This collection presents 14 stories from the golden age of British crime fiction by such masters of mystery as Arthur Conan Doyle, G.K. Chesterton and Anthony Berkeley.

 

The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries, edited by Otto Penzler
An Edgar Award-winning editor collects 60 of his all-time favorite holiday crime stories, including tales by O. Henry, G.K. Chesterton, Thomas Hardy, Ed McBain, Mary Higgins Clark, Isaac Asimov, Ngaio Marsh, Peter Lovesey, Max Allan Collins, Stanley Ellin, John D. Macdonald, Damon Runyon, Donald E. Westlake and John D. Mortimer.
 

Movies and TV Series based on classic detective stories
Campion
Based on the novels by Margery Allingham

Lord Peter Wimsey
Based on the novels by Dorothy L. Sayers

Malice Aforethought
Based on the novel by Francis Iles

Marple
Based on the novels by Agatha Christie

Mrs. Bradley Mysteries
Based on the novels by Gladys Mitchell

The Moonstone
Based on the novel by Wilkie Collins

Poirot
Based on the novels by Agatha Christie

Sherlock
Based on the novels and stories by Arthur Conan Doyle
 

 

For further research
In the Shadow of Agatha Christie: Classic Crime Fiction by Forgotten Female Writers: 1850-1917, edited by Leslie S. Klinger
Before Agatha Christie became the world's Queen of Crime, she stood on the talented shoulders of the female crime authors who came before her. This splendid new anthology by Leslie S. Klinger brings these exceptional writers out of Christie's shadow and back into the spotlight they deserve.

The Invention of Murder: How the Victorians Revelled in Death and Detection and Created Modern Crime by Judith Flanders
In this exploration of murder in the 19th century, Judith Flanders explores some of the most gripping cases that fascinated the Victorians and gave rise to the first detective fiction.

The Scientific Sherlock Holmes: Cracking the Case with Science and Forensics by James F. O'Brien
Sherlock Holmes has an enduring appeal based largely on his uncanny ability to make the most remarkable deductions from the most mundane facts. O'Brien provides an in-depth look at Holmes's use of science in his investigations. He reveals that Holmes was a pioneer of forensic science, making use of fingerprinting well before Scotland Yard itself had adopted the method, and discusses mathematics, physics, biology, astronomy, meteorology, and geology, always in the context of Holmes's exploits.

The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books by Martin Edwards
This book tells the story of crime fiction published during the first half of the 20th century. The diversity of this much-loved genre is breathtaking, and so much greater than many critics have suggested. To illustrate this, the leading expert on classic crime discusses 100 books ranging from "The Hound of the Baskervilles" to "Strangers on a Train" which highlight the entertaining plots, the literary achievements, and the social significance of vintage crime fiction. 

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