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Mysteries &

Detective Fiction

Its a mystery?
Elements of mystery

are found in great

literary works of the
past (Bible,
Elements of mystery
may be main plot or
subplot [we find mystery
in romance and science
Detective fiction is a
subgenre of mystery

When Detective Fiction Appears

Poe: the founder of the genre

The Murders In The Rue Morgue (1841)
The Mystery Of Marie Roget - A Sequel To
"The Murder In The Rue Morgue" (1850)
The Purloined Letter (1845)

Historical Factors that led to the genre

First modern police forces organized in
late 1700s, early 1800s responsible only
to the law and not to some wealthy patron
The rise of democracy [esp. in America]
gives rise to the belief that law/the police
are on the side of the people

Changes from past genres

Before, the criminal could be seen as
heroic, like Robin Hood, but not in this
While some characters might question the
efficacy of justice, or even the possibility of
justice through the lawultimately, the
authors of this genre always side with the
ideal of law and order

Development of Detective Fiction

An increasing emphasis is placed on Science

In its classic form, it is a fictional

celebration of scientific method Think CSI
19th c. conception of Science included
the natural sciences, but also philosophy,
ethics & law as well as a reliance on
observable fact and logical processes.

Both deductive and inductive reasoning

are required of the detective

Science and Detective Fiction

There is a strong

connection between
detective fiction and
science fiction: both
feature a man of
science using his
reasoning skills to
produce a solution to a
pressing social problem.

The Double Contest

At the heart of detective

fiction is both the contest of

wits between the detective
and the villain, but also
between the writer and
In good fiction, the writer
must play fair with the
reader [that is, there must
be enough reasonable
clues in the story for the
reader to figure out who
done it]

Detective Fiction as Game of Wits

Detective fiction developed as a highly
structured, formal art with rules:
(1) Evidence must be available to the reader
(2) The solution must be reasonable (not
(3) No surprises at the end; ex. the number of
suspects must be finite
(4) Crime should be significant
(5) There must be detection
not simply a solution.

Detective Fiction as Discipline

Because of these rules, theres a sense in

which writers dont have the same kind of

freedom that writers of other kinds of stories

its similar to a poet choosing to work within

the conventions of the sonnet

Basic Definition
Subgenre of narrative fiction; often thought of

as detective fiction
Usually involves a mysterious death or crime
to be solved
Each suspect must have a credible motive
Central character is usually a detective who
solves a crime

Tip-Offs to Mystery Genre

Mystery, crime or puzzle to be solved
Main character who is a detective and sets

out to solve a crime

Suspects and motives
Overt clues presented
Hidden evidence
Red herringskind of foreshadowing clue
that leads readers to false conclusions

Elements Common to Most

Law enforcement
Weapon (s)
Settings (i.e. haunted houses, city streets,
deserted areas, dark streets, alleys,
warehouses, etc.)
Mood setters (foggy nights, cemeteries,
creaking gates, footsteps, thunder, wind,
screams, blood, etc.)
Key words (alibi, motive, clues, evidence, victim,
sleuth, witness, suspect, red herrings, etc.)

Amateur detectiveprotagonist is someone

who does not solve crimes for a living

British-mystery set in England
Comicmakes you laugh about the crime
Cozyamateur detective with a few more
rulesno overt violence, very little or no bad
language, no overt sex, set in small town,
nothing bad happens to anyone good

Hard-boiledcriminal tends to be the

protagonist rather than the crime fighter. Has

lots of bad language, graphic violence, and
general examination of societys underbelly.
Historicalset in a time period substantially
earlier that when first published; often have real
people and/or events in the background and
may be well researched

Noirhard-boiled with a few more rules; set in

the 1940s or 50s; the men are disenchanted,

disillusioned, corrupt or down on their luck; the
women are completely loyal, dutiful, loving and
plain or completely self-centered, manipulative,
mysterious and gorgeous
Police Proceduralprotagonist is normally a
police detective; Urban settings, dark humor,
hard working, street-smart police populate these
stories. Also includes profilers, medical
examiners, forensic anthropologists, etc.

Private Detectiveprotagonist is a private

Romanticmust have a romantic storyline
between the two main characters (not just a
love interest for the main character) and the
romantic storyline must be given page-time
roughly equal to the mystery storyline
Supernaturalanything from ghosts to psychics
to time-traveling detectives
Traditional/Classicpuzzle is presented to the
reader at the beginning. The plot follows a fairly
straight path, strewn with clues, to the solution of
the puzzle

Edgar Allan Poe introduced fictions first

fictional detective in 1841 (birth of mystery as

we know it): Auguste C. Dupin in The
Murders in the Rue Morgue
Acknowledged as the father of the mystery

Murders in the Rue Morgue is the most famous

example of a mystery style known as the locked

room (a murder victim is found inside an
apparently sealed enclosure and the detectives
challenge is to discover the murderers

Wickie Collins
1858The Unknown Public (essay)

suggested readers read more to reflect the

changing pace in society; the rising literacy
rates combined with more leisure time
contributed greatly to the popularity of novels
and mysteries in particular

Anna Katherine Green

1878first woman to write a detective novel

The Leavenworth Case

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Sherlock Holmes character had a distinct

style and flair for deducing clues

Reliable sidekick: Dr. Watson

British Mysteries
1920s-British mysteries became popular with

the introduction of the cozy mystery

Golden Age
Also in the 1920s
Time of growing prosperity in England and

Popularity of mystery at all time high

Agatha Christie
Wrote more than 80 novels
Career spanned more than 50 years
Probably the best known mystery writer in

Wrote novels about her famous Belgian
sleuth Hercule Poirot (some of these stories
can still be seen on A&E)

Dorothy Sayers
Famous characterLord Peter Wimsey
His style and intelligence won over many


Developed by Allen Lane and his 2 brothers
During height of Golden Age
Paperback line issued in 1935 with only 10

titles but quickly grew to 70 titles within a year

Easily accessible to the public due to their
much lower cost and availability in
department stores

1930s and 1940s

American detective fiction

reached its peak

Ellery Queen
Pseudonym for cousins Mandfred B. Lee and

Frederic Dannay
1929-introduced detective named Ellery who
worked with his father Richard Queen
Drury Lane was introduced into the mix in

Hard-Boiled Fiction
Also known as Black Mask fiction
Developed in the 1920s with rise of

magazines known as pulps

Most famous was Black Mask
Originally published adventure stories of all
kinds but eventually devoted itself to
detective fiction

Raymond Chandler and Dashiell

Popular authors in the pulps
Hammetts character Sam Spade (The

Maltese Falcon)
Chandlers character Philip Marlowe

Charlie Chan
Quirky character who used the sage of the

Orient to solve crimes

Introduced by Earl Derr Bigger

Erle Stanley Gardner

Perry Masonmain character
First introduced in 1933
Crime-solving attorney
His friend, detective Paul Drake, and

secretary, Della Street, helped him

Went head-to-head with District Attorney
Hamilton Burger

Mickey Spillane
Book called I, The Jury
Mike Hammer was main character
Strong emphasis on sex and violence
Appealed mostly to male readers

The Shadow
Radio shows took off and became very

Most famous radio mystery

New Genres
Murder, She Wrote (Jessica Fletcher)
Hawaii 5-O
Hill Street Blues
Columbo (Lt. Columbo)
The Rockford Files (Jim Rockford)
Law and Order

Contemporary Authors
Patricia Cornwell
Tess Gerritsen
Lisa Jackson
Robin Cook
Sue Grafton
Robert B. Parker
James Patterson

Childrens Mysteries
Nancy Drew
The Hardy Boys
Encyclopedia Brown
The Goosebump Series by R.L. Stine

Common Vocabulary
Casea matter requiring investigation
Victimthe person negatively affected by a

mysterious event or crime

Cluesomething that appears to give
information toward solving a crime
Sleuth-person who investigates a crime or
mysterious event
Evidencesomeone or something that
proves who committed a crime or was
involved in the mysterious event

Suspectperson who appears to have a motive

to have committed the crime

Witnessperson who has personal knowledge
about the crime or event
Alibievidence offered by a suspect to prove
they were not at the scene of the crime
Deductioncollecting facts and using them to
draw a conclusion

Moodstate of mind or feeling

Motivethought or feeling that makes one act;


Hitchcock says suspense bears no relationship to fear.

Instead, it is the state of waiting for something to

Crucial to the Hitchcockian thriller is the difference
between suspense and surprise. To put it simply, the
director said that if you have a scene where two
characters are conversing in a cafe, and a bomb
suddenly goes off under the table, the audience
experiences surprise. On the other hand, if the audience
sees the saboteur place the bomb, is told that it will go
off at one o'clock, and can see a clock in the scene, the
mundane conversation between two cafe patrons now
becomes one of intense suspense, as the audience
holds its collective breath waiting for the explosion.
Fifteen minutes of suspense, as opposed to fifteen
seconds of surprise. It was therefore necessary, to Alfred
Hitchcock, that the audience be as fully informed as

Based on this principle, the suspense thriller has been

loosely defined as a story in which the audience is

waiting for something significant to happen. The
protagonist's job is to prevent the speeding bus from
exploding, or the aliens from eating the crew. The reader
experiences a vicarious thrill by identifying with the hero
and the danger he faces, becoming a participant in the
A mystery, on the other hand, is a novel of revelation,
with action more mental than physical. A significant
event, usually a murder, has just occurred, and the
protagonist's job is to discover who committed the crime,
and why. The dilemma created for the writer of traditional
mysteries is the fact that the villain and the details of the
crime must remain unidentified, breaking Hitchcock's
rule of keeping the audience informed.

Crime Fiction Requirements

Must be fiction. Names, places and events

may be real, but the plot is fictitious. True

crime is not a sub-category.
Must be a crime
Must be an investigative process
Must be a solution for the crime

Detective Fiction
Typically has a recurring character who is

usually the investigator

Classic example is the Private Eyenormally
fall into the sub-genres hard-boiled and softboiled
Cozy is a popular formnormally has a nonprofessional detective
Police-procedurals fit in this category too

Suspense drives fiction. Arcs stretch

suspense. An arc-of-suspense is the

technique of making the reader aware of what
will happen next and teasing him/her with the

Types of Arcs

Secrecy and mystery

Unfinished scene
Time pressure arc (beating the clock)
Arc to the next chapter
Incidental arc
Arc of the bizarre
Hubris arc (extreme ego)
Arc of fate
Arc of justice
Arc of mistaken identity
Arc of one hidden prohibition

BLEILER, Richard (ed.). Reference Guide to

Mystery and Detective Fiction. 2.ed.

Connecticut: University of Connecticut, 2004.