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Books and Reading: Mystery Fiction

The Mystery Fiction Collection at the Northfield Public Library

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Defining the Mystery Genre

  A mystery can be defined as a work of fiction in which the character is asked to solve a puzzle.  Mysteries combine crime and detection and the central question is 'whodunit?'.  The focus of mysteries is on the detective and the process he or she uses to solve the crime. 

 Detectives in mystery stories are often characters who are developed over multi-title series.  They vary in type from amateurs to professionals.

 Source:  Genreflecting:  A Guide to Popular Reading Interests (7th ed.) by Cynthia Orr and Diana Tixier Herald (eds.)  Santa Barbara, CA:  ABC-CLIO, LLC. 2013

Early History of The Mystery Genre

It is generally agreed that the mystery genre emerged in American literature in the mid-nineteenth century when Edgar Allan Poe introduced fictional detective C. Auguste Dupin in The Murders in the Rue Morgue, a short story published in 1841. 

Detective Dupin also appeared in The Mystery or Marie Roget (1842) and The Purloined Letter (1845).

In these stories Poe created the standard elements of detective fiction such as "the locked room mystery" and a brilliant eccentric detective who solves the crime through careful reasoning and an "examination of devices", both elements which are still in use today.

The British writers Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins also made signficant contributions to the mystery genre, including:

Bleak House and The Mystery of Edwin Drood (Dickens) and The Woman in White and The Moonstone by Collins

Source:  The Mystery Readers' Advisory:  The Librarian's Clues to Murder and Mayhem by John Charles, Joanna Morrison and Candace Clark.  Chicago:  American Library Association, 2002.