Any consideration of the history of mystery and detective fiction must start by separating the traditional meaning of the word “mystery” from the genre that bears the name. Even the earliest-known writings of humankind contain elements of mystery. Mystery, as the is word now commonly understood, is the unknown, the unanswered. This is a very different meaning from that used in mystery novels, in which mystery goes from being only one of the elements in a story to being the central purpose of a story. Gothic romance novels, which predate the modern mystery, utilized mysterious elements in their plots, often using the supernatural in combination with dark, long-hidden family secrets that were revealed to readers slowly throughout their pages.
The American author Edgar Allan Poe extracted the mystery element from gothic romance novels and made it the core of three short stories, beginning with “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” in 1841. With that short story. Poe established a pattern that is still used today. At the center of the story is the crime: two mutilated women in a locked room on an upper floor of a Parisian apartment building. One of the women has been nearly beheaded, the other is stuffed halfway up the chimney. After shocking readers with the brutality of the crime that has already been committed, Poe introduced his detective, C. Auguste Dupin. An amateur detective, Dupin relates his theories to the story’s unnamed narrator, who marvels...
(The entire section is 600 words.)