Crime-Mystery-Detective Stories Introduction - Essay

Introduction

Crime-Mystery-Detective Stories

The following entry presents criticism on crime, mystery, and detective short fiction in world literature.

Mystery Story: Fictional work detailing evidence related to a crime or mysterious event in such a fashion as to allow the reader an opportunity to solve the problem, the author's solution being the final phase of the story. Detective Story: Popular literature focusing on the step-by-step investigation and solution of a crime. Source: Merriam-Webster's Encyclopedia of Literature, 1995.

The crime-mystery-detective story has been a popular genre of fiction for many years. These stories follow the exploits of an amateur or professional detective as he or she solves a crime by interrogating suspects, investigating clues, and tracking down criminals. Commentators trace the enduring appeal of crime-mystery-detective fiction to its fascinating protagonists, exciting and often ingenious plots, the fight between good and evil, and the satisfaction of solving crimes. Although critics debate its exact origins, most agree that the birth of the modern crime-mystery-detective story can be traced back to the 1841 publication of the short story “Murders in the Rue Morgue,” written by the American author Edgar Allan Poe. In this story, Poe introduced the detective Monsieur C. Auguste Dupin, who solves a series of murders through methods of logical reasoning referred to by Poe as ratiocination. Dupin's scientific method of investigation as well as his eccentric personal habits became the model for most crime-mystery-detective writers that followed. While Poe is generally considered to be the inventor of the modern crime-mystery-detective story, British author Arthur Conan Doyle is credited with creating the prototype of the detective-hero that was to remain dominant throughout the twentieth century. Doyle created perhaps the best-known and best-loved hero of the genre, Sherlock Holmes, who first appeared in the novel A Study in Scarlet in 1887. His first short story featuring Holmes was published in 1891, and was followed by a series of short story collections featuring Holmes and his loyal friend, Dr. John Watson. The Holmes series proved incredibly popular and exerted a profound influence on the genre.

During the first half of the twentieth century, sometimes referred to as the golden age of the crime-mystery-detective story, the genre evolved along two distinct lines: the classical and hard-boiled styles. The classical style is represented by several English authors whose stories revolve around their lovable amateur detective-heroes: G. K. Chesterton and his protagonist, the detective-priest Father Brown; Dorothy Sayers and her aristocratic sleuth, Lord Peter Wimsey; and Agatha Christie, who created two detective-heroes, Miss Jane Marple and detective Hercule Poirot. These stories feature highly complex and ingenious mysteries that are solved by methodical and clever detective work. The hard-boiled crime-mystery-detective story, in contrast to the classical style, was developed by American authors who made their careers publishing short stories in the popular pulp fiction magazines. The hard-boiled detective-hero differs from the classic detective-hero in his rough, urban, working-class milieu, his predilection for physical violence, and his distinctive narrative voice characterized by tough, masculine tones. Black Mask was the most influential pulp magazine in developing the hard-boiled style. It is remembered for publishing many classic short crime-mystery-detective stories by authors whose names have become synonymous with the genre, such as Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. As the popularity of pulp magazines decreased around the time of World War II, police procedurals gained popularity. These stories focused on actual police work and featured fallible, ordinary police detectives who solve crimes.

In recent decades, the crime-mystery-detective genre has diversified, featuring stories written by minority, gay and lesbian, and feminist authors. This diversity is also reflected in the protagonists of these stories; recent crime-mystery-detective fiction has included African American, Native American, Jewish, and gay and lesbian detective-heroes. Although the novel continues to be the dominant medium of the crime-mystery-detective narrative, short stories by these contemporary authors may be found in numerous anthologies of the genre published during the 1990s and early 2000s.