According to the BOOKSTR site, crime and mystery are the second most lucrative topics to choose if you want to make money from writing. This genre accounts for just about half of the sales of novels about romance and sex. This kind of survey is always controversial; doesn’t every book have some love, sex and mystery in it? Nevertheless, there can be little argument that the detective story has a major following among readers. How and why did such a following arise?
Its origins are very old, and early influences can be found in the celebrated Arabian Nights (The Three Apples), in Greek drama (Oedipus Rex) and there are even those who claim examples can be found in the Bible and other religious works. But the honour of having founded the genre is usually attributed to the great American writer mystery writer Edgar Allan Poe (The Murders in the Rue Morgue) in 1841. Poe can also claim the credit for the ubiquitous habit of producing sequels, for he followed up his initial success with a series of novels featuring his detective, Auguste Dupin. What impresses me about Poe is that his detective stories are not just the result of free imagination, but that he had devised a structure to the genre based on acute observation and the use of deductive logic, an approach which survives to this day.
Despite the pioneering work of this American writer, the focus of detective fiction moved to Europe for the rest of the 19th century, with Émile Gaboriau (Monsieur Lecoq) in France and, in England, Wilkie Colins (The Moonstone), reviewed in this issue of the Voice of Literature) and of course, the great Sherlock Holmes novels of Arthur Conan Doyle.
English dominance of the genre persisted in the first half of the 20th century, with the works of Agatha Christie and her great characters, Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot. Although these are great examples, it could be argued that they are very derivative in their structures and lack innovation. We have to turn to the USA for the next development., where Raymond Chandler introduced the cynical and not too honourable detective(Phillip Marlowe) who has become the role model for the modern detective. And from there we arrive in the present day, where we find detective mysteries generously scattered throughout the best-seller charts.
So what is the appeal of this genre? In my view, it is that it answers a fundamental and irresistible aspect of human nature: curiosity. If we don’t know something, we cannot rest until we find it out. That’s why people love gossip, and it’s why they love the detective story. So go on, spoil yourself. Get a hold of one and begin to read.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
James Gault, born in Scotland, has recently retired to SW France after spending ten years in the Czech Republic. There he enjoys the sunshine, writes novels, short stories and English Language textbooks.
He also produces the on-line literary magazine Vox Lit with monthly notes by writers for writers and readers, news, features (short stories, poems and extracts from novels.)
He has written four novels, all available on Amazon as e-books and paperbacks:
Teaching Tania (Young Tania tries to put the world to rights with the help of her English teacher – a comic detective story)
Ogg (Supernatural being tries to teach teenage Antonia how to think rationally as they try to save the world from destruction – comic philosophical thriller)
The Redemption of Anna Petrovna (Young woman in ex-communist country tries to build a career in a totally corrupt society – political psychological thriller.
Best Intelligence – a detective thriller set in Scotland, France and Spain.
Current work in progress: the sequel to Best Intelligence and a satirical novella on the Trump-Putin relationship.
As well as ELT books and his novels, he has written short stories published in various reviews and magazines. In 2007, he won the writing prize from the British Czech and Slovak Society for his short story ‘Old Honza’s Day Out’.
In his time James has been an IT specialist, a businessman and a teacher as well as a writer, and has traveled extensively throughout Europe. He has worked with and taught English to students of many nationalities. He has an international outlook on life and his writing reflects both this and his other interests.
Apart from writing, his passions are politics, philosophy, film making, computer system development and his grandchildren.