Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The History of the Mystery

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I was doing some online research on the history of the Mystery novel. Most sources credit Edgar Allen Poe as having penned the first American mystery book, Murders in the Rue Morgue, in 1841. But the grandfather of the mystery story in all recorded history? Oedipus Rex. Yep. Take a look at this, the general consensus "Top Ten Classic Mystery Novels" of all time.

  1. Oedipus Rex - Written by Sophocles in Ancient Greece.
  2. Murders in the Rue Morgue (1841)- and all of Tales of Mystery and Imagination, the collection of mystery horror by Edgar Allen Poe in America.
  3. The Woman in White- 1859 by Wilkie Collins in England.
  4. The Celebrated Cases of Judge Dee, written in Chinese in the 1700s and translated, with original English-language stories added.
  5. The Compleat Sherlock Holmes (written in the 19th and 20th centuries) by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle of the UK- all of the Holmes and Watson stories, especially The Hound of the Baskervilles. Of the pastichenovels based on these characters, two or three collections are also superb, including one written by a man from the old radio tapes and the scripts used by Basil Rathbone as Holmes. The author had listened to those very radio shows as a young boy.
  6. The Maltese Falcon- Dashiell Hammett in America. The film starred Humphrey Bogart, with Peter Lore in a humorous role and the film is still very entertaining as well as mysterious. This book and film are famous all over the world. See The Maltese Falcon for review, summary, and discussion.
  7. The Birdsby Daphne Du Maurier, England. Set in WWII, brds systematically attack people all through Europe during the war. Made into film by the famous mystery producer Alfred Hitchcock, The Birds is a horror mystery classic in many countries.
  8. Laura- Vera Caspary in America. Caspary was active in the Anti-Nazi group The League fo American Writers. A police detective investigates the murder of a newspaperwoman and falls asleep under her portrait in her home. He awakens to find her standing there before him. The film version co-starred mystery pro Vincent Price.
  9. The Mystery of Edwin Drood - Charles Dickens, 1870; England. A young man, Edwin Drood, is an orphan that grows up, becomes an engineer and plans to marry. The wedding is called off and he plans to go hiking, but disappears and is found murdered.
  10. The Mystery in the Yellow Room (1907) and The Phantom of the Opera(1911) - by Gaston LeRoux in France.
Any others you can think of in say, the last 3,000 years - that should have made that list?


Mark Troy said...

I think any list of influential mysteries has to include Agatha Christie's, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, which introduced Hercule Poirot and included an amazing twist at the end.

Another essential is James M. Cain's, The Postman Always Rings Twice with it's theme of inescapable fate and it's lower class protagonist.

The there's Cornell Woolrich's The Bride Wore Black, noir novel if ever there was one about revenge.

Mark Troy

Brian Kavanagh said...

You would have to include Mystery of a Hansom Cab by Fergus Hume. Published in Melbourne in 1885 it predates Sherlock Holmes, was an international success and continued as the biggest selling detective mystery novel until Agatha Christie. It has never been out of print.