Detective stories have been around for over a century, but their popularity persists. Find out who wrote the first detective story and discover a new novel for your ‘must read’ list.
The allure of a detective story is nothing new.
Traces of the theme date back to the work of literary icon Edgar Allen Poe. His 1841 short story The Murders in the Rue Morgue centred around an unlikely protagonist – the eccentric Monsieur C. Auguste Dupin who used his powers of reasoning and deduction to solve a mysterious murder.
Analytical, thorough and with an uncanny ability to work backwards, Dupin became the archetype of detective protagonists in fiction. The character inspired several fictitious sleuths such as Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot.
Readers today are familiar with the concept of a detective protagonist, and even though the character trope has been around for over 160 years, mystery-solving heroes are as popular in fiction today as they have ever been. But why?
In short: They satisfy.
The juxtaposition of ambiguous subject matter with a familiar form lures readers into a pattern that’s too good to resist.
While the narratives of these books handle the grey areas of morality, forcing us to question the differences between right and wrong while trying to grapple with the bounds of the human psyche, the form of these stories follow a specific pattern and structure to ground us in an otherwise twisting plotline.
While the dark side of human nature is enough to pique our interest, it’s the familiar pattern (problem, analysis and solution) carried out by the detective protagonist that rewards our brains for completing the story. Detective novels usually end with all the loose ends tied up, providing a structural respite from the otherwise uncomfortable subject matter.
Consider a murder mystery, for example. What might otherwise be a tragic tale of an innocent life lost becomes an exciting puzzle when portrayed in the correct format. By employing a clever protagonist who can somehow sense what the reader cannot, these books become an entertaining mind game rather than a depressing account of heinous crimes.
Today, the genre has hugely expanded – with fictional investigators coming from every corner of the globe and solving mysteries of every kind. The rise of Australian outback noir proves that no landscape is out-of-bounds when it comes to detective stories. And the more unique the setting and circumstances are, the better.
Though the trope might be more than a century old, recent detective tales are as exciting as ever. From humorous to chilling, modern detective novels are approaching the old formula in interesting new ways.
Dead Tide, a must-read modern detective novel
Keen to read a new detective story? Dead Tide by Fiona McIntosh is the perfect pick.
The book features Detective Superintendent Jack Hawksworth on what might be his most chilling case yet. Whilst on a sabbatical at a London university, one of his students dies in suspicious circumstances. Determined to figure out what has happened, Jack finds himself across the world in Adelaide, Australia.
Alongside local crime officers, Jack tirelessly tries to solve the mystery but as his personal life gets entangled with business, things become complicated. Bringing justice might mean putting his own life on the line this time.
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