Sunday, May 22, 2011

The History of Mystery

I’m thrilled to welcome Jean Henry Mead as our Sunday guest as she travels the globe on her virtual book tour. 

Jean is a mystery/suspense and western historical novelist. One of Jean's fortes is interviewing writers, actors, politicians, artists and ordinary people who have accomplished extraordinary things. She is also an award-winning photojournalist who began her writing career as a California newspaper reporter/editor/photographer. 

Murder on the Interstate, Jean's third novel in the Logan & Cafferty mystery/suspense series, chronicles the adventures of two feisty 60-year old women sleuths who encounter murder, homegrown terrorism, kidnapping and disasters as they travel Arizona in their motorhome

Three copies of Murder on the Interstate will be given away and one of the winners (from a drawing of blog visitors leaving comments) will be a character in her next book.

Today, Jean discusses the history of mystery. 

Edgar Allen Poe's first detective story is credited with creating the mystery genre in this country, but “What’s happened to the mystery since [Sherlock] Holmes hung up his deerstalker hat and started keeping bees?” Carolyn Wheat asks the question in her book, How to Write Killer Fiction.  

Wheat says that mysteries have been split into three distinct strands: the classic whodunit, the American hard-boiled detective story and the procedural. She further divides up the whodunit category into the regional mystery, historical, comic relief, niche mystery and the dark cozy. Her book was published in 2003, and a number of subgenres have since been added to the list, including the science fiction mystery.

I love niche mysteries such as Carolyn Hart’s series featuring a red haired ghost who returns to earth to solve murders following her own death in a boating accident. And former NASA payload specialist Stephanie Osborn not only taught astronauts what they needed to know about space travel, she wrote a mystery involving the disappearance of a space shuttle after her friend was killed in the Challenger explosion.

The American hard-boiled detective story evolved from The Great Detective, who solved crimes with his intellect. The list isn’t complete, however, without the books of Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Ross McDonald, Elmore Leonard and Lawrence Block. The plots take place in urban areas where murder and mayhem happen on a regular basis. You’d be hard pressed to find a hard-boiled detective story set in Cabot Cove, Maine, or St. Mary Mead, England. Or as Chandler once said, “Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished or afraid.” The phrase epitomizes the hard-boiled detective story that's alive and well in any number of currently written series.

The police procedural evolved when writers came to the conclusion that the majority of crimes were actually solved by detectives who used scientific methods to track down and apprehend criminals--much like Sherlock Holmes with modern equipment. They weren’t bunglers like the cops in Agatha Christie’s St. Mary Mead or mainly corrupt like the cops in Bay City, California. No one seems to know who first wrote procedurals although the genre was influenced by Wilkie Collins’ Sergeant Cuff in his book, The Moonstone, published in 1868, and TV’s Sgt. Joe Friday of the LAPD of the 1950s. Joseph Wambaugh and James Ellroy later refined the subgenre and placed a spotlight on the corruption, violence and racism of the Los Angeles police.

The dark cozy has lightened considerably in this country. I still love Christie’s sleuths and have written a few of my own, adding comic relief to my Logan & Cafferty senior sleuth series. The dark cozy came into being with Mark Twain’s Pudd’nhead Wilson, the first novel to use fingerprinting as a method of detection, long before it was used in real-life police work.

With all the subgenres to choose from, which do you prefer?

Jean's virtual book tour runs from May 2-May 27. 


Hannah Dennison said...

Welcome to Type M Jean. This is a great post. I'm often asked about the sub-genres with the mystery genre and how they evolved. This will be a keeper for me! Thank you.

Cheryl said...

Thanks for hosting Jean today. Your readers can view a trailer for Murder on the Interstate at if they are interested.


Donis Casey said...

Lovely to see you here, Jean! I'm quite eclectic in my sub-genre choices. For me the characterizations, atmosphere and setting, and intriguing plot trump any labels. In fact, after a few weeks I often remember the setting and characters of a story and not the mystery or even who did it. That's a helpful quality if you want to read the book again, I suppose.

hannah Dennison said...

Yes - I agree with you Donis. After finishing a book, it's the characters that stay with me ... thanks again for your post Jean!

Jean Henry Mead said...

Thank you for hosting my blog tour, Hannah. We're in the process of moving and I didn't have Internet access until just now. I'm glad that you liked my mystery history. :)

And Donis, it's lovely to see you here as well. I agree about characterization. No matter what the plot concerns, its the characters dthat are memorable.

And thank you, Cheryl, for bringing us all together.

Liz V. said...

Sounds like fun series. Good luck.