Mystery Firsts

I thought it might be fun to look at some of the “firsts” in mystery writing. The books, or stories mentioned here are old and you may have to ask for them through inter-library loan!  I am not an “expert” here, so if I have made an error in my assumptions I apologize.  But this is what I have found so far.

First ‘inverted’ mystery – An inverted mystery is one in which you know who the criminal is from the beginning; the question is how do they get caught. The very first one was published in 1858, in France, but the first English one was The Singing Bone by R. Austin Freeman (1912). It’s part of the Dr Thorndyke series and is still enjoyable.

First mystery story – In 1704 the first English translation of Arabian Nights was published. One of the stories, The Three Apples, is really the first murder mystery, but most people would say the first was Edgar Allen Poe’s Murder in the Rue Morgue (1841).

First ‘locked room’ mystery – John Dickson Carr is considered the master of the “locked room” but the first to appear was The Big Bow Mystery by Israel Zangwill (1891). It’s an excellent tale of about 100 pages.

First American woman mystery writer – Anne Katherine Green, educated at Poultney College in Vermont, began a prolific writing career, in 1878, with her series detective Ebenezer Gryce of the New York Police Department in The Leavenworth Case.

First Native American detective – Move over Tony Hillerman! The laurels here go to Rex Stout’s detective Tecumseh Fox in Double for Death (1936).

First African-American detective – Although the first to reach real popularity were Chester Himes characters “Coffin” Jones and “Gravedigger” Johnson, the first was Perry Dart in Rudolph Fisher’s The Conjure-Man Dies in 1932.

First police detective in English fiction – Inspector Bucket in Charles Dickens’ Bleak House (1853).

First female detective – There was an 18th c. French “Miss Marple” named Mlle de Sudery but our first English language female detective is Miss “G”, in The Female Detective by Andrew Forrester, Jr. (1864).

First time the investigator is the guilty party– Gaston Leroux, well known for The Phantom of the Opera, wrote Mystery of the Yellow Room in 1907. It’s also a ‘locked room’ mystery and a very good read.

First English mystery with multiple narratives – Most people credit The Beast Must Die by Nicholas Blake (1938) as being the first to use this writing style which tells the story from different viewpoints. However, Bleak House (1853) had two narrators.

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