Before detective games and crime shows became a thing in modern day, there are origins to what made the mystery genre popular – starting with the novels.
Everyone who is familiar with Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, S.S. Van Dine and other mystery writers – this one is for you. For those who are not familiar with the genre, here is the story behind the genre.
Mystery is a genre that revolves around an unsolved question and a goal to solve it by finding clues to achieve an answer. In literature, most of the plot focuses on a certain crime or any questionable situation that can create an engaging narrative that will influence and make the readers be part of the story.
Like with other genre fiction, mystery has a set of elements that needs to be followed. The first thing to start with is the main setup: The unexplained. It doesn’t have to be a crime like in a detective story, it can be an impossible arrival of someone or something. What comes next is the investigation. It begins with gathering for certain clues and interrogating suspects. At the rising point and climax, there will be some surprises along the way due to last-minute testimonies and red herrings. For the falling action, the investigation hits a gold mine – whether it’s through a confession or an important clue stands – the mystery is solved.
However, the story’s not over yet. If the case is a crime, the perpetrator needs to face justice. If it’s a disappearance, the person needs to be found. Last thing to note, those who have committed wrongdoings must be punished.
Chronologically, mysteries are typically told from when the event/crime is discovered to the instant where the case is closed. However, the mystery can be solved early, and the rest of the investigation’s focus is on finding out the motive, creating questions for the readers as they search for answers.
Most importantly, the origins. Looking at ancient history, there are written passages about crime and punishment, but they only focus on laws to societies and tales to teach readers about morality. Greek playwright, Euripides wrote “Orestes” (408BC) as to discussing the consequences of murder how it affects not the just the victim’s family and friends, but also the perpetrator’s as well.
The official beginning of the genre in literature didn’t start until 2,200 years later as American writer Edgar Allan Poe wrote the first detective short story “The Murders of Rue Morgue” (April 1841). It was also the first work of mystery that employs the formula, taking place in the plot.
In 1866, French writer Emile Gaboriau follows suit with his novel “L’Affaire Lerouge” – in which the main character is based off a real-life criminal who joined police to solve crimes that he used to commit. His book was a success, gaining a cult following as many sequels were made.
Two years later, English author Wilkie Collins wrote “The Moonstone” (1868). What makes the story unique is that the investigation focuses on how the crime happens (a diamond from India has been stolen), rather than figuring out who done it.
In 1887, “A Study in Scarlet” was published – a recognized masterpiece that made it big universally. Written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, this was the first story showing the adventures of the well-known eccentric detective Sherlock Holmes and his grounded companion Dr. John Watson. It was believed to be the juggernaut of detective stories as it expanded to be part of pop culture in the modern era.
Finally, in the 20th century (1920s-1930s) created the golden age of the mystery genre as there were movie releases of popular novels at the time. “The Mysterious Affair at Styles” (1920) made a onscreen introduction to the protagonist: Hercule Poirot – a private investigator who is second to Holmes. Another thing to state is that the genre broke into children’s literature, bringing delight of amateur investigators to the nest generation, starting with “The Hardy Boys” (1927) and Nancy Drew (1930).
Present day, the mystery genre is still constituted as a staple of literature and the publishing industry; helping readers find the best one of the bestseller’s lists.