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Mystery Writers

Page history last edited by Tamara Simons 8 years, 8 months ago

History of the Mystery


Edgar Allan Poe can be called the first true mystery writer. With a central detective character in The Purloined Letter (1844) and The Murders in Rue Morgue (1841), he helped lead the way in creating the mystery as a distinct genre. Mystery was not a true genre until around this time. The golden age of the detective story took place nearly a century later in the 1920s. Agatha Christie was a prominent force in the growing popularity of mysteries at this time, writing over eighty novels. She is known for her two female crime solvers, Jane Marple and Hercule Poirot. At this same time, Dorothy L. Sayers created the detective Lord Peter Wimsey.


In the 1930s and 1940s the mystery craze was sweeping the United States thanks to Ellery Queen, the pseudonym of two cousin co-writers, Manfred B. Lee and Frederic Dannay. Ellery Queen produced thirty-three novels during this time. Other variations of the mystery genre appeared during the golden age. Tough guy detectives appeared in what are labeled Black Mask or hard-boiled fiction. Perry Mason was created at this time by Erle Stanley Gardner. In the 1930s the quirky detective appeared, led by Charlie Chan, an oriental crime solver created by Earl Der Bigger. Another tough guy, Mike Hammer, was created by Mickey Spillane in the 1940s. Also in the forties, the police procedural formula appeared. In these, the mystery is presented from the police point of view with descriptions of the detailed procedures followed at the crime scene. [1-6]


Well-known Mystery Writers


Most everyone can name a few of the most famous mystery writers of all times - Agatha Christie, Ellery Queen, Ian Fleming (James Bond), and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, whose Sherlock Holmes is the poster boy for the genre. Today, there are many authors who write mysteries and it is still one of the most popular genres for leisure reading today. Sue Grafton, Lois Duncan, Mary Higgins Clark, James Patterson, and Nora Roberts are just a few of the more recognizable names.

Edgar Allan Poe was born in Boston, Massachusetts on January 19,1809. He had an older brother named Henry and younger sister name Rosalie. In December 1810 Poe' s dad ran away and died soon after. Eliza, his mother, took care of Poe and Rosalie. His older brother Henry had to go and live with relatives. Eliza became sick with tuberculosis and died in October of 1811. Then Rosalie went to live with the Mackenzie family. Poe had to live with a couple, Valentine and John Allan. He began school early. At the age of five he was able to read a newspaper. Then he went to a boarding school where he learned about Latin and Shakespeare. When he went to the University of Virginia he got kicked out because of gambling debts. He married his youngest cousin, Virginia Clemm. When Virginia died, he was devastated. He was an influential writer in the 19th century. Metzengerstain was his first story that was published. His death is a mystery.{13,14}



James Patterson is one of the bestselling mystery writers of modern times. He has sold over 150 million books, thirty-nine of them bestsellers. He created two of the bestselling detective series of the last ten years - The Alex Cross series and the Women's Murder Club series. Patterson's first novel, The Thomas Berryman Number, won the Edgar Award for Best First Mystery. Patterson is the founder of the James Patterson PageTurner Awards, with which he gives away monetary prizes to people and organizations promoting reading. [7]


Sue Grafton is very well-known for her Alphabet Series( A is for Alibi, N is for Noose, T is for Trespass, etc.) featuring Kinsey Millhone as the private investigator. She is nothing like her famous protagonist, who is twice divorced and was orphaned at a young age. Grafton has been married for twenty years and has three children and two grandchildren. She was born and raised in Louisville, Kentucky. Her mother taught high school chemistry and married her high school sweetheart, who worked in Louisville as an attorney. Grafton has written many mysteries, several of which have been made into movies. Her books have been translated into twenty-six different languages, a true testament to the popularity of mysteries. [8]


Another big name in the mysteries genre is Nora Roberts who is just as well known for her pseudonym J.D. Robb. As J.D. Robb she wrote the very popular Innocent in Death series, a police procedural, about NYPD lieutenant Eve Dallas. She started the series as a three-title experiment, but it has grown to twenty-five books. Eighteen of those have been on the bestseller list. Roberts was born in Silver Springs, Maryland, the youngest of five children, all the rest boys. She was always a reader. After working briefly as a legal secretary, she became a stay-at-home mom with her two little boys. During a blizzard in 1979, she picked up a pencil and notebook to keep from going stir crazy and so began her prolific writing career. [9]


Joan Lowery Nixon is a popular children's mystery writer. She has written over 130 books for children ranging from kindergarten age to young adult. Perhaps she writes for children because she has four of her own. She is the only writer to have received the Mystery Writers of America Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best Juvenile Mystery four times. Nixon comes from California and Texas and studied journalism in college. She grew up loving mystery. She recalls listening to a radio program, I Love a Mystery, as a child which set her on her career path. She says that writing mysteries is even more fun than reading them. [10]


Mary Higgins Clark is another name associated with the mystery genre. She has a BA in philosophy, which she says helps when writing mysteries. Like many of the other writers discussed thus far, she stayed home with her five children. She had always dreamed of being a writer so when she got married she quit her job as an international stewardess to stay at home and she took writing classes at NYU. She was writing short stories until her publisher told her to write a book. Her first book was a biographical novel about George Washington. She thought of it as an accomplishment but wanted her next book to sell better. So she looked at her bookshelves to see what interested her and saw Nancy Drew, Agatha Christie and Sherlock Holmes. Writing mysteries was a natural choice. She has written twenty mysteries and all of her books except for the first one about George Washington have been bestsellers. [11]


Agatha Christie is known for her contribution to mystery novels. Christie was from a wealthy family and never attended public schools; therefore, her creativity was encouraged by her parents. As a young teenager, she was shy and did not express her feelings. She first turned to music and then writing. In 1914, she married at the age of 24 to Archie Christie, a World War I fighter pilot. At the time, she worked as a nurse. This is when she got the idea to write a detective novel. She finished her first novel in one year but it was not published until five years later. In 1926, Archie asked for a divorce. Christie was already upset from the death of her mother. She became depressed and disappeared. Three weeks later, she was found in a hotel. She claimed to have lost her memory. She wrote over 66 works including short stories, screenplays, and novels. Several of her works were made into films. Agatha Christie became known as the Queen of the Golden Age in England for her writing. [12]

When Lois Duncan was younger she told stories to her parents until she was able to write them down. She entered an annual writing contest by Seventeen Magazine and won second, first, and third, three years in a row. At the age of 13, she sold the first short story she wrote to a magazine named "Calling all Girls" and received 25 dollars for the story.{15}  Lois Duncan writes horror and mysteries because she likes to read those types of stories. She would like readers to enjoy reading.{16}  Lois Duncan's first major work was Debutante Hill. She had submitted the manuscript of the story to a contest and won. It was published in 1958.{15}




1. "History of the Mystery." MysteryNet.com. 2005. MysteryNet and Newfront Productions. 7 May 2008.



2. Donelson, Kenneth L., and Alleen Pace Nilsen. Literature for Today's Young Adults. 7th ed. Boston: Pearson, 2005.


3. "Gothic Romance." The Columbia Encyclopedia. 6th ed. 2007. Bartleby.com. 7 May 2008


4. Haycraft, Howard, and John Beecroft, eds. A Treasury of Great Mysteries. Garden City: NY: Nelson Doubleday, 1957.


5. "Mystery Time Line." Mystery Net 2009. 8 December 2009 <www.mysterynet.com/timeline/


6. Landrum, Larry N. "Mystery, suspense, and detective fiction." Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia. 2008. Grolier Online. 2 May 2008



 7. "About James Patterson: A Biography." 21 Oct. 2007. James Patterson The Official Website. 2008. Hachette Book Group      USA. 7 May 2008<http://www.jamespatterson.com/about_biography.html>


 8. Grafton, Sue. Sue Grafton. 2008. 7 May 2008<http://www.suegrafton.com>  


9. Roberts, Nora. Nora Roberts. 2008. 8 May 2008<http://www.noraroberts.com>


10. "Spotlight on... Joan Lowery Nixon." Teachers at Random. 2004. Random House Children's Books. 8 May 2008.



11. Weich, Dave. "Mary Higgins Clark Reveals: 'Pan Am was the airline.'" 13 May 1999. Powell's Books. 2008.

     8 May 2008<http://www.powells.com/authors/higginsclark.html>


12. "Agatha Christie." Mystery Net 2009. 7 December 2009 <http://christie.MysteryNet.com/>


13. "Edgar Allan Poe."Supernatural Fiction Writers. Ed. E. F. Bieller. Vol. 2. Charles Scribner's Sons.697-705. Web.


14." Edgar Allan Poe." Mysteries and Suspense Writers: The Literature of Crime, Detection, and Espionage, vol. 2. Ed. Robin WoWInks. Charles

            Scribner's So, 1998. NC WiseOwl. Web. 12 Dec 2011.


15. Bily, Cynthia A. "Lois Duncan." Guide to Literary Masters and their Works. Salem Press. Jan. 2007. Literary Reference Center Plus. Web. 16 May 2012.


16. Hipple, Ted, ed. "Lois Duncan." Writers for Young Adults. Charles Scribner's Sons, 1997. NCWiseOwl. Web. 16 May 2012.


Comments (1)

A.J. said

at 11:18 am on Dec 10, 2008

my grandma reads the alphabet series by sue grafton but i never put much thought into reading them. i didn't know about her past though. i think i might read a couple to see how they are.

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