Mystery and Detective Fiction—Time Line Analysis

Time Line

(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)


British radical philosopher William Godwin’s Things as They Are: Or, The Adventures of Caleb Williams is the first modern detective story.


The anonymously published Richmond: Or, Scenes in the Life of a Bow Street Officer, Drawn from Private Memoranda is the first novel to present a police officer as a detective.


Memoirs of Vidocq, Principal Agent of the French Police Until 1827 exaggerates the exploits of the brigade of the Sûreté officer François-Eugène Vidocq.


Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s Paul Clifford introduces the era of “Newgate novels” (c. 1830-1847), scandalous for their sympathetic portrayal of the poor and criminals.


The publication of William Harrison Ainsworth’s Rookwood and later Jack Sheppard (1839), both about highwaymen, marks the graduation of common criminal protagonists from crude “gallows literature” for the poor to novels intended for the middle class.


Honoré de Balzac’s Daddy Goriot includes a character named Bibi-Lupin, a former convict turned police officer based on François-Eugène Vidocq.


William Godwin dies.


Charles Dickens’s Oliver Twist stirs controversy because of its underworld setting, violence, and sympathy for juvenile criminals; its popularity leads to at least six theatrical versions by year’s end.


Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s “A Passage in the Secret History of an Irish Countess” is the earliest known use of a crime in a supposedly impossible, or locked-room, situation.


Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” introduces detective C. Auguste Dupin.


London’s Scotland Yard creates the Detective Department.

Edgar Allan Poe transports the real-life murder story of Mary Rogers from New York to Paris, where Dupin solves the crime in “The Mystery of Marie Rogêt.”


Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Gold Bug” introduces ciphers to detective fiction.


Some reviewers consider Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s Lucretia: Or, The Children of the Night to be a serious offense against morality; it is based on real crimes by poisoner Thomas Griffith Wainwright.


Edgar Allan Poe dies.


Charles Dickens’s Bleak House introduces Inspector Bucket, based on a real Scotland Yard detective.


François-Eugène Vidocq dies.


Charles Dickens’s “Hunted Down” is based on a murder committed by poisoner Thomas Griffith Wainwright.


Wilkie Collins’s The Woman in White, a romantic suspense novel, highlights the unfair legal treatment of women.

In America, the era of the dime novel (c. 1860-1915) begins when Irwin P. Beadle launches Beadle’s Dime Novels, which emphasize Western characters; however, detectives soon dominate.


The Lady Detective, a novel, is published anonymously.

Ellen Price Wood, writing as Mrs. Henry Wood, publishes East Lynn, among the first of the “sensation novels” focusing on crimes by and against women.


The most famous sensation novel, M. E. Braddon’s Lady Audley’s Secret, is published.

Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables tells of the pursuit of a reformed convict by an unrelenting police officer.


Hawkshaw the detective, a character in Tom Taylor’s drama The Ticket of Leave Man, is among the earliest detectives on the American stage.


Uncle Silas is published; it becomes one of Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s best-known works.


Louisa May Alcott’s “V. V.: Or, Plots and Counterplots” introduces detective Antoine Deprès, modeled on Edgar Allan Poe’s Dupin.


Fyodor Dostoevski publishes Crime and Punishment.

Writing as Seeley Regester, Metta Victor publishes The Dead Letter, the first fully developed American detective novel.

Émile Gaboriau’s The Widow Lerouge features Lecoq, a detective modeled on both Vidocq and Dupin.


Wilkie Collins’s The Moonstone introduces Sergeant Cuff, based on an actual police officer involved in the sensational Constance Kent murder case.


Émile Gaboriau’s Monsieur Lecoq appears.


Charles Dickens dies, leaving The Mystery of Edwin Drood unfinished; many authors will offer solutions.


Wilkie Collins’s The Law and the Lady presents an intelligent and courageous female investigator, intent on setting aside a verdict against her husband.


Anna Katharine Green’s The Leavenworth Case, featuring police detective Ebenezer Gryce, is a best seller.


Three Heroes and Five Gallants is among the first Chinese crime novels to be lithographed for comparatively wide circulation; its protagonist is the legendary eleventh century Judge Bao Zheng.


Fyodor Dostoevski dies.


Judson R. Taylor introduces one of the earliest Native American sleuths in Phil Scott, the Indian Detective: A Tale of Startling Mysteries.

Mark Twain’s “The Stolen White Elephant” burlesques detective stories.


A story in Mark Twain’s Life on the Mississippi incorporates one of the earliest fictional uses of fingerprint identification.


Robert Louis Stevenson publishes The Body Snatcher, based on actual serial murders by William Burke and William Hare in 1828 in Edinburgh, Scotland.


John Russell Coryell introduces pulp fiction hero Nick Carter in Street and Smith’s New York Weekly; many authors write later Carter stories.

Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde appears.

Fergus Hume’s The Mystery of a Hansom Cab is a best seller.


Sir Arthur Conan Doyle introduces Sherlock Holmes in “A Study in Scarlet” in Beeton’s Christmas Annual.

Popular actor Richard Mansfield stars in the first stage version of Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

The publication of Emilio de Marchi’s The Priest’s Hat marks the beginning of Italian crime fiction.

Expiation is E. Phillips Oppenheim’s first novel.


Wilkie Collins dies.

Originally written in English and published in England, Maarten Maarten’s The Black Box Murder is probably the first detective novel by a Dutch author.


George Newnes, Ltd., begins publication of the Strand Magazine (1891-1950); although initially successful, its lasting popularity is assured by its publication of Sherlock Holmes stories (1891-1950).


Israel Zangwill’s The Big Bow Mystery is the first novel to use the locked-room device.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes is the first collection of Holmes stories.


Gilbert Parker in Pierre and His People is among the first to chronicle the adventures of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, then called the Northwest Mounted Police.

Private investigator Sexton Blake appears; the first story was written by Harry Blyth for young people and published in Halfpenny Marvel, but Blake becomes the protagonist of more than four thousand episodes for adults, written by many authors.

Tired of being identified with Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle causes the detective to fall to his death in “The Adventure of the Final Problem,” published in the Strand Magazine, resulting in great public outrage and thousands of canceled subscriptions.


Robert Louis Stevenson dies.

Catherine Louisa Pirkis creates a professional female detective in stories collected as The Experiences of Loveday Brooke, Lady Detective.


Melville Davisson Post introduces an unscrupulous criminal lawyer as a protagonist in The Strange Schemes of Randolph Mason.

Mark Twain publishes Tom Sawyer, Detective.

Publisher Frank A. Munsey converts Argosy from a juvenile publication to the first pulp magazine for adults (1896-1943; men’s magazine 1943-1978).


Anna Katharine Green introduces single female detective Amelia Butterworth in That Affair Next Door; the most fully developed female detective up to this time, Butterworth will inspire Agatha Christie.

Grant Allen creates a swindler hero, Colonel Clay, in An African Millionaire.


Actor William Gillette, who will become identified with Sherlock Holmes on stage, screen, and radio, first appears on stage in Sherlock Holmes in Buffalo, New York.

A. J. Raffles, gentleman burglar, appears in stories collected as The Amateur Cracksman by E. W. Hornung.


Douglas Blackburn’s Kruger’s Secret Services is among the first crime novels set in modern Africa.

Biograph releases a thirty-five-second film of Sherlock Holmes Baffled.


African American writer Pauline Hopkins’s Hagar’s Daughter, A Story of Southern Caste Prejudice, serialized in Colored American Magazine (1901-1902), is probably the first novel to introduce a detective as a key figure in a story of complex racial relationships.


Sherlock Holmes returns in The Hound of the Baskervilles.


Mark Twain’s A Double-Barrelled Detective Story parodies Sherlock Holmes.


Director Edwin S. Porter films The Life of an American Policeman.

Edgar Wallace’s Four Just Men begins a series of novels about men who punish criminals the law cannot or will not touch.


Jacques Futrelle’s Augustus F. X. Van Dusen (“the Thinking Machine”) stories are collected in The Chase of the Golden Plate.

Robert Barr introduces one of the first comic detectives in The Triumphs of Eugène Valmont.


Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent, the story of terrorists in London, is based on an 1894 incident at Greenwich, England.

The first genuinely scientific detective, R. Austin Freeman’s Dr. John Thorndyke, appears in The Red Thumb Mark.

Joseph Rouletabille, investigative reporter, solves the crime in Gaston Leroux’s The Mystery of the Yellow Room.


Mary Roberts Rinehart publishes The Circular Staircase, which becomes her most famous novel.


Carolyn Wells introduces detective Fleming Stone in The Clue.

Mary Roberts Rinehart’s The Man in Lower Ten becomes a best seller.

Private investigator Sexton Blake first appears in the English silent film Sexton Blake; it is the first of many appearances of this character on film, radio, and television.

Pioneer film director D. W. Griffith films Edgar Allan Poe, showing Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven” poem sold for too little cash as Poe’s young wife dies.


Mark Twain dies.

H. B. Warner stars in the theatrical success Alias Jimmy Valentine, adapted by Paul Armstrong from O. Henry’s story “A Retrieved Reformation.”

D. W. Griffith’s films A Child of the Ghetto and later The Musketeers of Pig Alley (1912) are among the first to depict urban gangs.

At the Villa Rose introduces A. E. W. Mason’s French Inspector Hanaud.

Baroness Orczy’s stories about Lady Molly Robertson-Kirk, a detective, are collected as Lady Molly of Scotland Yard.


The first collection of G. K. Chesterton’s Father Brown stories appears as The Innocence of Father Brown.

Marcel Allain and Pierre Souvestre’s Fantômas, a film featuring a masked villain, is a sensation in France, with thirty-one eventual sequels and five films in 1913 and 1914 alone.


Jacques Futrelle dies in the sinking of the Titanic.

R. Austin Freeman invents the inverted detective novel (the reader knows the criminal from the beginning) in “The Case of Oscar Brodski,” published in The Singing Bone.


Earl Derr Biggers publishes the immensely popular Seven Keys to Baldpate, which George M. Cohan immediately adapts to a successful play.

Marie Belloc Lowndes rewrites her 1911 story “The Lodger” now as a novel.

Mystery writer Carolyn Wells publishes The Technique of the Mystery Story (revised 1929), the earliest known instruction book for mystery writers.

E. C. Bentley presents flawed, fallible detective Philip Trent in Trent’s Last Case.

Sax Rohmer collects stories about a criminal organization intent on world conquest in The Mystery of Dr. Fu-Manchu.


Ernest Bramah’s stories about blind Max Carrados, the first severely disabled detective, are published as Max Carrados.


Anna Katharine Green introduces a debutante detective in The Golden Slipper and Other Problems for Violet Strange.

Richard Hannay, a South African mining engineer, is featured in John Buchan’s best-known work, The Thirty-nine Steps.

Street and Smith launches Detective Story Magazine (1915-1949).


William Gillette stars in the film version of Sherlock Holmes.

Arthur B. Reeve’s Constance Dunlap: Woman Detective presents a criminal turned sleuth.


Melville Davisson Post develops historical mysteries; his Uncle Abner, Master of Mysteries, a collection of stories, describes life on the Virginia frontier at the time of Thomas Jefferson.

Boston Blackie’s Little Pal begins a film series that will continue until 1927 and be revived during the 1940’s.


Boston Blackie, a film based on Jack Boyle’s character, is released.


H. L. Mencken and George Jean Nathan launch Black Mask magazine (1920-1951).

Marie Belloc Lowndes’s detective Hercules Popeau appears in The Lonely House, inspiring Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot.

H. C. Bailey introduces forensic pathologist Reggie Fortune in stories collected as Call Mr. Fortune.

Tutt and Mr. Tutt is the first collection of Arthur Train’s stories about lawyer sleuth Ephraim Tutt.

Herman Cyrile McNeile, writing as Sapper, publishes the first Bulldog Drummond novel, Bull-Dog Drummond: The Adventures of a Demobilized Officer Who Found Peace Dull.

The Bat, a play based on Mary Roberts Rinehart’s The Circular Staircase, opens in New York.

John Barrymore stars in film version of Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

Agatha Christie’s first novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, introduces Belgian detective Hercule Poirot.


Agatha Christie introduces detectives Thomas and Prudence Beresford, known as Tommy and Tuppence, in The Secret Adversary.

Among the first comic horror plays is John Clawson Willard’s The Cat and the Canary, opening in Washington, D. C. (A 1939 film version stars Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard.)

Winnie-the-Pooh author A. A. Milne publishes The Red House Mystery.

Carroll John Daly’s “The False Burton Combs,” published in Black Mask, is considered the first modern private eye story.

John Barrymore stars in the film Sherlock Holmes.


The Step on the Stair is Anna Katharine Green’s last novel.

Dorothy L. Sayers introduces detective Lord Peter Wimsey in Whose Body?


Edgar Wallace’s mild-mannered, dangerous detective J. G. Reeder appears in Room 13.

John Rhode’s A.S.F.: The Story of a Great Conspiracy (The White Menace) is among the first thrillers to deal with cocaine smuggling.

Silent-film comedian Buster Keaton stars in Sherlock, Jr., as a movie projectionist who yearns to be a detective.

Philip MacDonald’s The Rasp introduces Colonel Anthony Gethryn, publisher, whose mission is to anticipate crimes before they occur.


John Rhode introduces professor detective Dr. Lancelot Priestley in The Paddington Mystery, first of a seventy-two volume series.

Charlie Chan of the Honolulu police first appears in Earl Derr Biggers’s The House Without a Key.

Monsignor Ronald A. Knox, who later develops rules for detective story writing, publishes his first novel, The Viaduct Murder.


S. S. Van Dine introduces erudite detective Philo Vance in The Benson Murder Case.

Agatha Christie’s innovative use of the narrator of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd as the murderer upsets many critics.

Alfred Hitchcock’s film of Marie Belloc Lowndes’s The Lodger is released; Ivor Novello stars.


The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes is the final collection of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Holmes stories.

J. B. Priestley publishes his first mystery, Benighted (The Old Dark House).

The release of Underworld, a film based on journalist, author, and playwright Ben Hecht’s story and directed by Joseph von Sternberg, initiates an era of gangster films.


Patricia Wentworth’s retired governess and private investigator Maud Silver debuts in Grey Mask.

W. Somerset Maugham publishes Ashenden; Or, The British Agent, a fictionalized account of his work for British intelligence.

Charles Laughton is the first actor to portray Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot in the London play Alibi, adapted by Michael Morton from The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. Harley Quin, Christie’s mysterious detective, appears, with his name slightly changed, in the first film of her work, The Passing of Mr. Quinn.

Two book clubs, the Crime Club and the Detective Story Club (purchased by Crime Club in 1930), are established to market crime and detective fiction.

Mystery writer Anthony Berkeley launches the Detection Club for British writers committed to traditional detective stories.

Leslie Charteris’s Meet the Tiger introduces the Saint, Simon Templar.

Josephine Tey’s The Man in the Queue introduces Detective Alan Grant.


The Roman Hat Mystery by Frederic Dannay and Manfred B. Lee writing as Ellery Queen introduces detective Ellery Queen.

Gladys Mitchell’s psychiatrist detective Dame Beatrice Adela Lestrange Bradley is introduced in Speedy Death.

William Powell and Louis Brooks star in the first Philo Vance film, The Canary Murder Case.

W. R. Burnett publishes Little Caesar; in 1931, starring Edward G. Robinson, it becomes the first major gangster film.

William Allingham’s Albert Campion appears in The Crime at Black Dudley.

Ronald Colman stars in Bulldog Drummond, based on the fiction of Sapper.


Dashiell Hammett publishes The Maltese Falcon, his only novel about Sam Spade.


Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Melville Davisson Post die.

Agatha Christie introduces detective Jane Marple in The Murder at the Vicarage; her first play, Black Coffee, opens in London.

The Shadow (1930-1954) is first broadcast on the radio; William Gillette stars in the opening episode of the Sherlock Holmes radio series (1930-1935, 1936, 1939-1946).

H. C. Bailey introduces unethical, Bible-quoting attorney Joshua Clunk in Garstons (The Garston Murder Case).

New York Police Inspector Christopher McKee appears in Helen Reilly’s The Diamond Feather.


Public Enemy, one of the most influential gangster films, stars James Cagney.

Peter Lorre becomes an...

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