Where It Comes From

"Anthony Horowitz, who was given official sanction by the Conan Doyle Estate to write a new Holmes novel, “The House of Silk” (2011), and whose “Moriarty” was published in December, said he thought that Sherlock Holmes was the father of all modern detective fiction.
“Every single detective story you read has the same structure: mystery, investigation, solution. And the tradition of the detective’s sidekick comes from there — Poirot has Hastings, Morse has Lewis,” he said, referring to the well-known characters in novels by Agatha Christie and Colin Dexter."

I can see readers of this blog scratching their heads and wondering: "Hey, what about Dupin?" While it would be too harsh and a bit simplistic to dismiss him as just a rip-off of the French detective, Holmes is certainly much indebted to Edgar Allan Poe's creation and most of the genre's features listed by Horowitz can be traced all the way back to The Murders in the Rue Morgue. And yet... Horowitz is right. While Poe and Dupin started it all, Doyle and Holmes certainly played a much more important role in shaping the genre as we know it. 

While initially successful, the Dupin stories made little impact in the long term. It took two decades for the genre to catch on and when it finally did it was in a way that had little in common with the model that Poe deviced. The smart (but not genius) detective was there for sure, but the plots often lacked the mathematical quality aimed at by Poe, stepped as they were in the figures and clichés of popular fiction of the time. At best they were feuilletons with a detective element.

Then Doyle came and changed it all. Sherlock Holmes was every bit a genius as Dupin, but he was also a character, which its predecessor was not (Poe had very little interest in characterization) Same goes for Watson who was a vast improvement in terms of character and voice over Dupin's anonymous companion. The stories (the novels are another matter) adhered to the structure of Poe's Dupin stories - they even refined it, adding a dramatic progression and human interest that were absent from Poe's work. The result was a delayed but ultimately massive success but most of all it was influential: by the end of the century every serious mystery writer was channeling Doyle - and as Horowitz pointed out the model has survived to this day, despite uncountable and sometimes successful attempts to break free from it.