I now blog over at The Eyre Guide! This blog is an archive of my past posts.

Monday, June 9, 2014

The Refined Reader (12) Origins of the Mystery Genre

Posted by Charlene // Tags: , ,

The Refined Reader aims to take a look at the journey to where we are as readers today.  It's part history, part commentary - providing a brief, conversational summary of various aspects of our bookish past and comparing it to how it has affected us in modern times.  I love history, but I am no historian, and while I plan to do my research, if there are any errors, please let me know!  This is as much a learning venture for me as I hope it is for my blog visitors!

When I was younger (like elementary school age), mystery was my favorite genre to read.  Something about having some problem to solve and trying to pick up on the clues ahead of the detective was majorly appealing to me.

The mystery story as a genre is relatively new in our literary history - it began in the early 1800s with the rise of an organized police force and detectives as well as a higher literacy rate. The 1819 crime novella Mademoiselle de Scudéri. A Tale from the Times of Louis XIV by E.T.A. Hoffman helped to inspire the father of the mystery story - Edgar Allan Poe in his novel The Murders in the Rue Morgue (1841). "Poe was one of the first to shift the focus of mystery stories from the aesthetics of the situation to a more intellectual reality, moving the story from "a focus on the superficial trappings of eerie setting and shocking event to a study of the criminal's mind." (Mystery Net)

What followed was a boom time in mystery with works by Wilkie Collins, Charles Dickens, and of course the creation of Sherlock Holmes by Conan Arthur Doyle who played a major part in popularizing the genre.  With Holmes, the mystery became even more of an intellectual exercise, placing even more focus in the power of human agency and reason.

The mystery story has many different sub genres today, that do not always include a logical solution to a mystery (in the case of paranormal for instance) but in most cases a mystery encompasses a crime, the use of logic to solve the crime, and a great deal of suspense.  The genre has also endured very well in popular television series and films.

Do you have a favorite mystery story and/or detective?

(My favorite is Agatha Christie and all her Hercule Poirot novels!)

Mystery Net

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  1. Charlie AndersonJune 9, 2014 at 8:22 AM

    I also love Agatha Christie! I haven't read much of her work (which is a shame, I know, but I will!) but I really loved Murder on the Orient Express. I have also often seen the entire premise of Ten Little Indians repeated and copied within the genre.

  2. Wilkie Collins is my favorite. The Moonstone & The Woman in White are such classics.

  3. Personally I love Stephenie Plum. Yes those books are super cheesy... and she is a Bounty Hunter who has to investigate and figure out where people are. But those books are short fast reads that I love.

  4. Murder on the Orient Express is an incredible story - I have such a fondness for those Christie books that really shocked readers with their twist endings. Same goes for Ten Little Indians which is the book that started me off as a Christie fan! I'm glad to know that you love Christie too!

  5. I've never been much of a mystery reader, actually. That being said, I love mysteries in movies, and I'm such a Poe fangirl it's not even funny. But I've read a Sherlock Holmes novel and didn't enjoy it that much--though I love film and tv adaptations with Holmes. I do wonder if I'm more of a mystery reader than I think I am, because I watched Murder on the Orient Express and loved it... :)

  6. I have read The Moonstone, but not The Woman in White which is a shame because I want to be able to see the musical after I read the book. :) I hope to read it soon!

  7. I haven't read anything by Plum! I will have to keep it in mind though because I enjoy a good, fast and fun mystery!

  8. I LOVE Poe, but I've never read The Murders in the Rue Morgue which is terrible - I need to read it soon! I find Holmes a little dry to read actually so I understand what you mean there - I've been meaning to try it again though since I'm so in love with BBC Sherlock and it would be nice to get the little references.

    I don't know if you have read any Agatha Christie, but if you haven't you should try reading Murder on the Orient Express! Actually the reason I got into Christie was because I decided to read Ten Little Indians even though I had already seen the movie. So I knew who did it, but I still couldn't put the book down, it was absolutely riveting. And of course the book was a little different from the movie!

  9. Another great post!
    This is a great reminder for me to read some Christie this summer! I am a sensitive reader, so I usually stick with the 'cozy mysteries'. But I have read Sherlock, and really enjoyed them! They are so well done.

  10. Mystery is one of my favorite genres, too! Btw, do you have a favorite Poirot novel? Mine are The A.B.C. Murders, Dead Man's Folly and Murder on the Orient Express.
    And it's not Poirot, but I also loved N or M? and And Then There Were None.

  11. I prefer cozy mysteries as well - I suppose it is because I am sensitive too - I just don't find lots of blood and gore to be a great read. It's my goal to read all of the Sherlock Holmes stories one day!

  12. Oh my favorite Poirot novel is an odd one - The Big Four, I know it's very unlike Christie's mystery style, but I really enjoyed it! I'd have to say after that ABC Murders, Murder on the Orient, and Mysterious Affair at Styles are in my top faves. I also really love And Then There Were None! And Endless Night is another non-Poirot fave!

  13. Oh audiobook! I should listen to the Holmes stories, that would make it easier to get through I think... I wonder if Cumberbatch reads any... Oh I was never very good at solving the mysteries - I think because I was too impatient to get to the end to really think about the clues, but it was nice to try as I was voraciously reading! I missed these Clue based books though - I wish I had read them when I was young, it sounds like a fun concept!

  14. Mystery is an interesting genre for me - sometimes I love it (in high school I read a ton of Mary Higgens Clark and John Grisham). I love mysteries with good characters because the suspense isn't enough for me. But then other times, the suspense actually turns me away because I know it won't be an relaxing read so I haven't really read a mystery in ages :)

    It's cool to see the link, though, to earlier works like Poe and Sherlock and how the genre evolved.

  15. I don't read as much mystery now, and I'm not sure why that is! I don't think I am turned off by it, but maybe I just need something more imaginative and out there for the books I read now. So maybe the suspense isn't enough for me either. Though I'm sure I'll still read more mysteries!

  16. I really adore Sherlock Holmes. I remembered enjoying reading it in high school, but when I revisited it on audiobook it was just love all over again! When I was much younger I actually a series of books based on the board games Clue and Clue Jr. that I really enjoyed! I was always so proud when I solved the mysteries!