History Of The Detective Novel Essay, Research Paper
History of the Detective Novel
Perhaps the first crime writer was Cicero. He was born Marcus Tullius Cicero in Arpinum, a small town on the outskirts of Rome on January 3, 106 BC. As a young man in Rome his skill as an orator had already begun to grow. He began to plead cases in the public forum in his 20s, becoming well known in a very short period of time. By the time he was in his mid-30s he was the most recognised pleader at the Roman bar. A magistrate as well as a public speaker, at 42 he was elected Consul, Rome’s highest office. His main skill, however was that he was a consummate writer as well as a statesman.
His extensive writings included 58 speeches, about ten thousand pages of philosophy and rhetoric, and some eight hundred letters. He was perhaps most famous, however, for his speeches in the Roman courts and Senate. Since there were no newspapers or any form of organised news flow in Ancient Rome, these speeches took on tremendous importance, providing news for the public as well as entertainment. All of Cicero’s speeches were copied, circulated, read, and reread.
But undoubtedly the originator of the modern day detective story was Edgar Allan Poe. Although he is best know as a poet, he was also considered the founder of the detective story. His five mystery short stories introduced many of the conventions and cliches that the genre would later become famous for.
His greatest contribution was the creation of his detective C. Auguste Dupin, who appeared in three of Poe’s works. Dupin was the first character of his kind, a man who relied on his ability to observe and reason to solve crimes instead of merely waiting for the outcome or guessing. He first appeared in The Murders in the Rue Morgue (1841), in which he attempts to clear the name of a friend who is accused of murdering two women. The story features several traditional mystery elements like an apparently locked and impenetrable crime scene, Dupin’s rather less intelligent but loyal assistant, and an unexpected plot twist leading to a surprise solution.
The only writer to rival Poe in importance in the mystery genre is Arthur Conan Doyle. Although Doyle borrowed heavily from Poe s Auguste Dupin when he created Sherlock Holmes, he also managed to give his character a memorable personality to go along with his prodigious knowledge and powers of deduction. These characteristics have helped make Holmes not only the greatest detective of all time, but also the most famous, real or fictional.
This greatest of sleuths was first introduced to the world in A Study in Scarlet (1887) which appeared in the 1887 Beeton s Christmas Annual; the story begins with Holmes meeting Dr. Watson, who is destined to become his life-long friend and partner. Soon after the two take up residence at No. 211B Baker Street, they are called on to help solve the murders of two men, linked by the fact that the word “Rache” is written in blood near each of the bodies. What they discover is a tale of revenge based in London, but with its origins deep in the American West.
Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins also presented works to this genre, but unfortunately Dickens contribution The Mystery of Edwin Drood (1870) was not completed before Dickens himself died, leaving the identity of the murderer a mystery. Collins s most known work is The Moonstone (1868), although Collins intended The Moonstone to be a literary experiment studying “the influence of character on circumstances”; the story is an excellent example of the mystery detective novel.
From about 1920 onwards there became two major schools of detective writing, the country house clue puzzle and the private eye or hard boiled school. The leaders in each particular school have become legends of literature.
Agatha Christie was the most famous of the writers in the country house clue puzzle school, where the outcome of the book rested more on the intelligence and thought processes of the hero, which was usually an amateur.
Agatha Christie was responsible for creating many of the world’s best-selling mystery books. One of her most famous detectives was a diminutive, meticulous Belgian named Hercule Poirot. Poirot is famous for using his “little grey cells” to tackle his cases. His first English case was The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1920).
Poirot appeared in fifty-one books and short stories. In Curtain, however, he returns to Styles Court for his last case. Sick and enfeebled, Poirot calls on Hastings to help him solve five apparently unconnected murders. The link between these murders is a person Poirot calls X, who was acquainted with all of the convicted murderers and their victims. In the middle of the chase, Poirot dies, leaving Hastings to try and piece together the remaining clues and unmask the true killer.
Another of Christie’s beloved sleuths is Miss Jane Marple. Introduced in The Murder at the Vicarage (1930), Miss Marple is a white-haired old lady who spends most of her time gardening and watching the birds (and people) of the small town of St. Mary Mead. When the body of the rich, unpleasant Colonel Lucius Protheroe is found in the vicarage, it is only natural that Miss Marple should offer her assistance to Vicar Leonard Clement. There are a host of possible suspects: a young wife, a discontented daughter, an artist painting the daughter’s portrait, a convicted poacher, and even the vicar himself.
Miss Marple is the best example of a sleuth in the country house clue puzzle, one who abhors violence and observes everything. She is imitated in most of the more modern novels in this sub genre.
The other school of detective writing is the hard boiled genre. This genre is presented best by the ones who made it popular, Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. There heroes, especially Philip Marlowe and Sam Spade have defined the trademark literary methods in this genre.
Although Dashiell Hammett was not the first writer to create the persona of a tough gumshoe, he was the first to really bring genre to life. As a young man, Hammett worked for the an office of the Pinkerton Detective Agency and he later used these experiences to create the character of Sam Spade, one of the most famous sleuths of this century. Unlike many other gumshoes, Spade hates guns and therefore does not carry one. Spade also does not subscribe to a “normal” view of morality, choosing instead to adhere to his own moral code. In The Maltese Falcon (1929), Spade’s first appearance in print, this code dictates that he venge the death of his partner even though he was having an affair with the man’s wife. Spade also becomes entangled with a beautiful woman, who became the first of the viper-like temptresses to appear in the gumshoe tradition. All of these features have become trademarks for the hard boiled style of detective fiction and are present to a greater or lesser degree in all detective novels of this form. The Maltese Falcon was later made into a movie starring Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade.
Raymond Chandler is one of the most imitated writers in the mystery genre. Like Hammett, Chandler started his career by writing for various pulp magazines of the 1930 s, especially Black Mask. Although his cynical detective/narrator changed names many times over the years before finally becoming Philip Marlowe, he remains the one hero in Chandler’s dark and traitorous literary world. After Chandler’s death, his stories were collected and published under the title Killer in the Rain (1964). Before the book was released, all of the narrators names were changed to Phillip Marlowe.
In the last forty years another school of detective fiction has emerged, the police procedural. This school was mainly formed as a variation from the often extremist action and drama of the hard boiled detective genre, a compromise between the almost pacifist country house clue puzzle school and the action of the private eye school.
The trailblazers of this type of writing were J.J Marric, with his tales of Gideon of Scotland Yard and Ed McBain. This form of the detective novel was carried forth by the now common names of Ruth Rendel, writing of Inspector Wexford and Colin Dexter writing of the famous Inspector Morse. These sleuths were more human seeming than the often flat characters of the private eye novels.