15/12/2007

Die Hard: an exchange

As a follow to my "Die Hard" article I received this e-mail from Mike Grost:
 
Between Poe in the 1840's and Gaboriau starting in 1865, there were a whole host of crime writers.
In Britain, the Casebook writers created numerous short stories about sleuths:

http://members.aol.com/MG4273/casebook.htm

The British also developed a branch of suspense fiction (not true mystery) called Sensation Fiction:

http://members.aol.com/MG4273/sensatio.htm

And some American writers wrote tales about puzzling mysteries - not always with detectives, or in the pure mystery format (notably Melville and Spofford):

http://members.aol.com/MG4273/melville.htm

Also, while British mystery writers seemed to vanish during World War I, some Americans such as Reeve and Rinehart produced some mystery fiction.

Admittedly, Poe and Gaboriau produced works totally in the mystery paradigm: books that are direct ancestors of all later mystery fiction. But the Casebook writers also contributed to the genre.
 
As I wrote back to him, I am well-aware of the casebook and sensation writers and their influence on the genre discussed on this blog, but my focus being on proper mystery fiction, they didn't make the final cut. There were undoubtedly stories about crimes and detectives written in the time between Poe and Gaboriau but there weren't any actual mystery stories. On the other hand I admit not having paid enough attention to the situation of American mystery fiction during World War 1 and asked Mr. Grost for some further information he kindly provided:
 
The two best US mysteries from 1915-1918 (that I know of), were published as magazine serials during that period - and only appeared in book form many years later. These are Mary Roberts Rinehart's "The Curve of the Catenary" (1915, I think!) and Johnston McCulley's "Who Killed William Drew?" (1917). Until your post, I never noticed anything about this. But now one wonders if the War delayed book publication in the United States, too.
Arthur B. Reeve kept publishing volumes of shorts throughout the war. Each volume usually has a few gems, and a lot of not so good material.
 
I thus stand corrected: mystery fiction didn't completely die during World War I, even though it admittedly went near extinguished in Britain and Continental Europe. The United States' late entry into the War more than probably accounts for the survival of the genre there; it would be interesting to know how the situation evolved after 1917. I'm also curious as to how mystery fared in other countries, most particularly Australia which already had a well-established tradition of crime and mystery fiction at the time. If you have any imput don't hesitate to send a mail or a comment.
 
It remains however unsolved why it took twenty years for mystery fiction to finally kick off, and why World War I almost killed it while World War II on the other hand was one of its peaks in terms of both quality and quantity. I keep thinking about it and more on the topic is sure to come.
 
 

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