EDGAR ALLAN POE's stories The Murder in the Rue Morgue (1841), The Mystery of Marie Roget (1842) and The Purloined Letter (1845) mark the birth of the detective story. POE introduced the prototype of the “great detective” into literature: Auguste Dupin, an eccentric whose superior power of analysis and scientific methods, apart from the criminal, are the main points of interest.
The chief elements of a detective story are:
Standard ingredients of the investigation into the crime are further puzzling elements, misleading clues (called red herrings), and the seemingly watertight alibi; they serve to hamper the investigation and are thus means of increasing suspense.
The detective, often a keen observer, solves the mystery by deduction, by eliminating the impossible until all questions are answered. The reader observes the detective “at work”, following the analytical process that leads to the solution.
Many writers copied POE's and DOYLE's patterns. The most outstanding authors of British detective literature are
AGATHA CHRISTIE (1891–1976), whose creations are the well-known eccentric Belgian detective Hercule Poirot and the amateur detective Miss Marple. AGATHA CHRISTIE wrote seventy-six detective novels and books of stories. The Affair at the Victory Ball (1923, p. 1) introduces some peculiarities of Hercule Poirot's habits:
“It was a fine morning in spring, and we were sitting in Poirot's rooms. My little friend, neat and dapper as ever, his egg-shaped head tilted on one side, was delicately applying a new pomade to his moustache. A certain harmless vanity was a characteristic of Poirot's and fell into line with his general love of order and method.”
DOROTHY L. SAYERS (1893 –1957). Lord Peter Wimsey is the aristocratic amateur detective hero of fourteen novels and short story collections SAYERS wrote: e.g. Whose Body? (1923), Unnatural Death (1927), The Nine Tailors (1934), Gaudy Night (1935). The following description catches the atmosphere of Lord Peter's aristocratic library:
“The April night was clear and chilly, and a brisk wood fire burned in a welcoming manner on the hearth. The bookcases which lined the walls were filled with rich old calf-bindings, mellow and glowing in the lamp-light. There was a grand piano, open, a huge chesterfield piled deep with cushions and two armchairs of the build that invites one to wallow. The port was brought in by an impressive man-servant and placed on a very beautiful little Chippendale table. Some big bowls of scarlet and yellow parrot tulips beckoned, bannerlike, from dark corners.”
(Unnatural Death. Beginning of chapter two)
MICHAEL INNES (1906–94). Pseudonym for JOHN INNES MACKINTOSH STEWART, e.g. Hamlet, Revenge (1937) and Appleby's End (1945).
P. D. JAMES (* 1920). Her novels feature Commander Adam Dalgliesh of Scotland Yard, e.g. in Original Sin (1994), Death in Holy Orders (2001) and The Murder Room (2003).
RUTH RENDELL (* 1930). Her detectives are Inspector Wexford and Detective Inspector Michael Burden, e.g. in Shake Hands Forever (1975) or Simisola (1994). She also writes under the name of BARBARA VINE.
“It was dim in there. He couldn't see much. At first he could see scarcely anything. Then, as his eyes grew accustomed to the subfusc interior of the room, he made out the edge of a table, possibly a dressing table, the polished wooden foot of something on blue carpet, a segment of flowered material touching the floor. And a hand. A hand, which hung down against those printed lilies and roses, a white immobile hand, the fingers extended.”
(Simisola, end of chapter four)
MINETTE WALTERS (* 1949): The Ice House (1992), The Sculptress (1993), Acid Row (2001).
DASHIELL HAMMETT (1894 –1961) became famous for his detective novels The Maltese Falcon (1930) and The Thin Man (1934). As a writer, he drew on his experience as a Pinkerton Operative at the Pinkerton Detective Agency in Baltimore and San Francisco between 1915 and 1922. D. HAMMETT is said to be the first important representative of the 'hard-boiled school of detective fiction'. The crime has not been committed or completed yet, when HAMMETT's detective starts his investigation. Instead the crime develops in the course of the story, and while tracking down the criminal, the detective himself becomes involved with violence.
RAYMOND THORNTON CHANDLER (1888 –1959), another member of the hard-boiled school of fiction, is the creator of Philip Marlowe, the tough private eye, who features in The Big Sleep (1939), Playback (1958) and many short stories.
“The pebbled glass door panel is lettered in flaked black paint:'Philip Marlowe … Investigations.' It is a reasonably shabby door at the end of a reasonably shabby corridor in the sort of building that was new about the year the all-tile bathroom became the basis of civilization. The door is locked, but next to it is another door with the same legend which is not locked. Come on in - there's nobody in here but me and a big bluebottle fly. But not if you're from Manhattan, Kansas.”
(Opening of Raymond Chandler, The Little Sister; 1949)
EARL STANLEY GARDNER (1889 –1970) produced a long line of detective novels based around lawyer-detective Perry Mason: From The Case of the Velvet Claws (1933) up to The Case of the Postponed Murder (1973).
ELLERY QUEEN is the pseudonym of FREDERIC DANNAY and MANFRED B. LEE. The Roman Hat Mystery (1929), their first success, was followed by thirty-three novels and volumes of short stories about the team of Inspector Richard Queen of the New York Police Department and his son Ellery Queen.
HARRY KEMELMAN (1908 –1996) is the author of the Rabbi Small Mystery Series, centring on the Jewish Rabbi David Small as the amateur detective, e.g. Friday the Rabbi Slept Late and That Day the Rabbi Left Town (1996).
PATRICIA HIGHSMITH (1921 –1995). Tom Ripley, a criminal, is the best-known character of her mysteries, as in The Talented Mr Ripley (1955). The last title of the Ripley-series is Ripley under Water (1991). HIGHSMITH's favourite subjects are abnormal behaviour and double personalities; the menace lurking beneath the surface of seemingly normal behaviour. She uses allusion and implication in order to express the menace that exudes from a person.
“Jenny dropped the two postcards on the coffee table in front of her sofa. Three or four days ago, she had felt a funny shock, like fear, when she looked at Robert's bird cards. They were all in a little book with a blue silk cover in her top drawer upstairs.”
(Patricia Highsmith, The Cry of the Owl. Chapter 18)
SARA PARETSKY (* 1947) writes mysteries of the hard-boiled school featuring female investigator Vi Warshawski who fights discrimination against the underprivileged and corruption, e.g. Indemnity Only (1982), Blacklist (2003).
ELIZABETH GEORGE (* 1949). Though an American author, all of her novels are set in England. Her investigators are Inspector Linley and Sergeant Barbara Havers, e.g. A Great Deliverance (1988), A Place of Hiding (2003).
Cover eines Kriminalromans von RAYMOND CHANDLER
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