Birth of the Detective and the Cozy Mystery

(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

As many critics have noted, the modern detective story has numerous antecedents. However, its most essential origins are in a trio of stories written by the American author Edgar Allan Poe during the 1840’s. Poe introduced his genius detective C. Auguste Dupin in “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” (1841); Dupin is not a police officer but a gentleman of some means and a scholar; he solves crimes because of his personal interest in the cases, as in “The Purloined Letter,” or because of his intellectual curiosity, as in “The Murders in the Rue Morgue.” Some eighteen years after Poe introduced the trope of deductive reasoning, or “ ratiocination,” the English author Wilkie Collins published The Woman in White (1859); he later followed it with The Moonstone (1868). The latter novel, in its portrayal of a large gathering of well-to-do suspects and two police detectives who would come to represent mainstays of the genre—the brilliant detective and the bumbling incompetent—introduces many of the elements that would form the English detective novel.

The popularization of detective stories can be traced to Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of the genius detective Sherlock Holmes. Doyle introduced Holmes—and his narrator, Dr. Watson—in A Study in Scarlet (1887) and would go on to write three more brief novels and fifty-six short stories about them. Doyle’s Holmes and the patterns of his narratives owe a debt to Poe’s Dupin stories: Both have genius detectives, less skillful...

(The entire section is 625 words.)