History of the Mystery - for Kids
Summary of mystery authors from Poe to the Present with links
"The Murders in the Rue Morgue" is the most famous example of a mystery style known as the locked room, in which "a murder victim is found inside an apparently sealed enclosure and the detective's challenge is to discover the murderer's modus operandi." (Crime Classics)
Edgar Allan Poe was one of the first to shift the focus of mystery stories from the description of shocking events and eerie setting to a "study of the criminal's mind." (Crime Classics)
As important as his contributions were to the genre, Edgar Allen Poe was influenced greatly by the early work of Charles Dickens who, with his contemporary Wilkie Collins, made major contributions to the genre as well. The rising literacy rates combined with more leisure time contributed greatly to the popularity of novels in general and mysteries in particular.
In 1878, with the publication of The Leavenworth Case, Katherine Anne Greene became the first woman to write a detective novel. This novel introduced elements of detection later used to great effect by writers of the English country house murder school, a style that focuses on members of a closed group, often in a country house or village who become suspects in a generally bloodless and neat murder solved by a great-detective kind of investigator.
Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's brilliant detective, arrived on the mystery scene in the late nineteenth century in A Study in Scarlet (1887). Holmes possessed a singular style unlike any detective seen before. With his distinctive style and his flair for deducing clues, Holmes, with his ever-reliable sidekick, Dr. Watson, quickly became indispensable to mystery readers everywhere.
The 1920s ushered in the Golden Age of mystery fiction. A time of growing prosperity in both England and America, the popularity of mystery fiction was at an all-time high. A writer emerged during this time whose name became synonymous with Golden Age fiction.
Agatha Christie wrote more than 80 novels, spanning a career of 50-plus years, and is today probably the best-known mystery writer in history. Christie has "entertained more people for more hours at a time than almost any other writer of her generation." (Great Detectives)
During the height of Golden Age fiction's popularity, London publisher Allen Lane came up with an idea that further helped to expand the availability of mysteries to the public. Along with his two brothers, he obtained limited rights to hardcover books written by Dorothy L. Sayers and other mystery writers. Their new paperback line was issued in 1935 with only ten titles and quickly expanded to seventy titles within a year. Penguins, as they were called, were easily accessible to the public due to their much lower cost and availability in department stores, where most of the public shopped at the time. These paperbacks helped to bring mysteries, along with other types of fiction as well, to the public.
Another type of crime fiction, police procedural, surfaced in the 1940s, and its style coincided perfectly with the advent of television. As its name implies, it differed from other styles of crime writing because of its realistic portrayal of police methods. The stories were always presented from the point of view of the police, usually in a gritty, realistic style.
Just as mystery throughout its history hasn't been limited to the page, it hasn't been limited to one audience. Some of the most popular mystery series have not been written for adults, but for children. The continued popularity of such series as Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys, and Encyclopedia Brown, among others, attest to the fact that mystery remains a beloved pastime for readers of all ages. Current writers like Christopher Pike and R.L. Stine, creator of the wildly popular Goosebumps series, sell in the millions as well. The popular Parker Brothers game, Clue, is another example of mystery's enormous appeal to children.
The popularity of mystery has a long and varied history and shows no sign of abating. On the contrary, it remains as popular as ever and today's mystery writers are as diverse and wide-ranging as ever.
Mystery in all its forms will undoubtedly continue to capture the public's imagination, regardless of the medium, well into the future.
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