This article is required reading for people who are new to detective mystery novels and want a starting point. Here are the three titans of this genre and the reasons why they earned their position.
Author Arthur Conan Doyle
Arthur Conan Doyle must be at the top of any list of mystery writers. Even though he was developed during the Victorian era, his Sherlock Holmes is still a household name and a symbol for all succeeding fictional protagonists in this genre.
From his famous London apartment, aided by his bumbling sidekick Dr. Watson, Holmes solves innumerable mysterious dilemmas brought to him by desperate supplicants, ranging from Government ministers to humble damsels in distress, and repeatedly foils the plots of his archenemy, the criminal mastermind Moriarty. Holmes, the infallible solver of all riddles, is rendered more human by his terrible violin playing, his harmless drug addiction, and Watson’s complementarity of common sense and physicality.
Doyle was born into an Irish Catholic household in Edinburgh in 1859; he ascribed much of his love for literature to the amazing tales his mother Mary told him when he was young; he even came to believe in the existence of fairies and other such fictitious beings. Doyle’s respect for one of his instructors in medical school inspired the logical sequence and technique of Holmes’s case-solving, just as his experience with medical colleagues inspired Watson’s clumsy behavior.
However, from an early age, his true aptitude lay in creative writing. Thus, despite receiving a knighthood for his work as a physician during the Boer War, he soon abandoned medicine for literary interests. At least initially, he viewed his Holmes novels and short tales as boilerplate for his more serious novels and poems. The latter represented his love of the supernatural, the occult, and the exotic, and were in many respects diametrically opposed to the detective works. However, the Holmes works were what the people desired. These works made Doyle a very wealthy man, brought him worldwide acclaim, and ensured his enduring legacy. For he had invented a rich new genre of detective mystery fiction that Agatha Christie and others have successfully continued until the present day.
Author Agatha Christie
Agatha Christie continued Doyle’s legacy, but in a more diverse and contemporary manner. Hastings, a Watson-like friend and narrator, is Poirot’s Watson-like companion and narrator. Her primary investigator, Poirot, too relies on order and logical technique to solve the usually complex cases pushed upon him by desperate customers, and also has a Watson-like companion, Hastings. Christie, despite remaining quintessentially British, transcends Doyle’s insularity, as evidenced by her titles, and embraces a more global perspective. They traveled to Baghdad after murders on the Orient Express and the Nile. However, in her other great sleuth, Miss Marple, an elderly spinster from a small English village, she not only alters the gender of the typical detective hero, but also appears to become completely provincial.
According to her thesis, the entire globe is embodied in the local. And it is the general applicability of her works as well as the unparalleled creativity of her storylines that keep us guessing until the very end. This, along with the genre’s continued worldwide popularity, has allowed her to sell 2 billion copies of her works in 45 different languages, placing her third in sales behind the Bible and Shakespeare.
If Doyle and Christie are extremely British, Chandler is very American and transported the genre to that continent, and to its world of Hollywood movies, with essential changes. He could be considered the originator of the American hard-boiled detective made famous by Film Noir and Pulp Fiction. During the Great Depression, while unemployed, he developed this technique by reading pulp fiction books. He was attracted to it because he considered it to be forceful and sincere, albeit crass. Philip Marlow, his slightly gloomy and glum private eye, portrayed by Humphrey Bogart in the films, is a long cry from the world of Holmes or Poirot. However, he is very American and democratic, associating with both lowlife and society ladies.
In this view, Chandler’s novels The Big Sleep, Farewell my Lovely, and The Long Goodbye have significance as early examples of contemporary American literature. And through film, where he collaborated with Hitchcock on Strangers on a Train and co-wrote the screenplay for the classic Double Indemnity, he exposed the genre to an even wider audience. Before his death in 1959, he became president of the American association of mystery detectives because he had become its model par excellence.
In conclusion, the aforementioned authors could be considered the three titans of the Mystery genre, yet they are by no means the only talented authors. Daphne Du Maurier and Joseph Conrad, to mention a couple, are likewise deserving of investigation. I hope you find as much enjoyment in reading their works as I do.