The History of Crime Fiction – Part II

In Part I, I wrote about early crime fiction, its Golden Age, and Hard-boiled American crime fiction. It should come as no surprise that the favorite fiction book genre among readers is mystery, thriller and crime. With the popularity of Agatha Christie, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Dorothy Sayres, Dashiell Hammet, and other writers, crime fiction proliferated in the 20th century to become a massive publishing industry today.

My first memory of a crime fighter was of “The Shadow,” which I listened to with rapt attention when I was very young. The Shadow” debuted on radio in 1930 as “The Detective Story,” but that show was renamed “The Shadow” in 1937 and ended in 1954. But there was also The Shadow magazine, which had a run of 325 issues over 18 years. Nancy Drew

One of my favorite detectives from my childhood was in the child detective category: Nancy Drew. Edward Stratemeyer created this spunky, clever sleuth in 1930. Stratemeyer died in 1930, so later books were ghost written by several authors under the pseudonym Carolyn Keene. In Nancy’s seven decades of detecting, Nancy, who was 16 to 18 in the books, solved more than 350 mysteries. Stratemeyer also created the Hardy Boys mysteries series, as well as The Bobbsey Twins and The Rover Boys, which are both series of children’s adventure stories.

We still have young sleuths today, including Jane O’Connor’s “Nancy Clancy, Super Sleuth,” involving Nancy and her best friend Bree. British author Phillip Pullman’s New Cut Gang stories are about a group of children solving crimes in the late 19th century London suburb of Lambeth. The most popular recent child sleuth is J.K. Rowlings wizard Harry Potter, along with his pals Hermione and Ron, solving all sorts of mysteries and fighting evil at Hogwarts.

And then there are the animal detectives. American-Canadian writer Polly Horvath created Mr. And Mrs. Bunny in her children’s book Mr. and Mrs. Bunny – Detectives Extraordinaire! But for adults, there are Lilian Jackson’s books about reporter Jim Qwilleran and his brilliant Siamese cat, who solve mysteries together in a series of easy-to read books. The same is true for Rita Mae Brown’s books about cat sleuth Mrs. Murphy. Brown has 21 books about the cat and her human Mary Minor “Harry” Harriston, all co-written with Brown’s own cat, Sneaky Pie Brown.

Rita Mae and Sneaky Pie Brown

Rita Mae and Sneaky Pie Brown

The animal detective stories fit into the cozy reading category of crime fiction. These books usually have a woman as the amateur sleuth. They’re fun to read and have become big business in the publishing world. Kate Carlisle’s Bibliophile mysteries are about another amateur sleuth named Brooklyn Carlisle, who is a bookbinder by trade. Diane Mott Davidson’s books feature caterer Goldy Schultz as the crime solver even as she includes recipes in the stories. The Needlecraft Mystery Series by Monica Ferris has needlepoint shop owner Betsy Devonshire as the crime solver.

The Perry Mason mysteries by Earle Stanley Gardner are among the most famous in the legal thrillers category. Gardner wrote more than 80 Perry Mason novels and short stories, and the television series ran from 1957 to 1966. Seven movies were made from 1934 to 1940. But other well-known and more recent thriller authors include John Grisham, Scott Turow, James Patterson, Greg Isles (his Natchez, Miss.-based series stars lawyer and writer Penn Cage), Sara Paretsky (her V.I. Warshawski novels), local Atlanta writer Patricia Sprinkle, who has a series with MacLaren Yarbrough as a magistrate in Hopemore, Ga., and Peter Tremayne, whose series about 7th century Ireland’s Sister Fidelma is one of my favorites.

We even have medical examiner mysteries. These include author Patricia Cornwell’s popular Kay Scarpetta series and Jonathan Kellerman’s Dr. Alex Delaware. Anthropologist mysteries include Kathy Reich’s series on Dr. Temperance Brennan (nicknames “Bones”) solving crimes as director of forensic anthropology in the province of Quebec. In the television series Bones, Dr, Brennan is based in Washington, D.C.

Peter Tremayne’s Sister Fidelma books mentioned above also fit into the historical mystery category. Others include the Amelia Peabody series set in Egypt in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, written by Elizabeth Peters; the Brother Cadfael books set in medieval England by Ellis Peters; Laurie R. King’s books with the brilliant Mary Russell, who matches her wits with an aging Sherlock Holmes to solve crimes; and Anne Perry’s series about the Victorian era husband and wife team Charlotte and Thomas Pitt.

Ellis Peters (Edith Pargeter) and Brother Cadfael (Derek Jacobi). Brother Cadfael ran as  a series on Mystery! (PBS).

Ellis Peters (Edith Pargeter) and Brother Cadfael (Derek Jacobi). “Brother Cadfael” ran as a series on Mystery! (PBS).

The popularity of Swedish crime writers Stieg Larsson (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) and Henning Mankell (the Kurt Wallander books) has helped give rise to more Swedish authors writing crime fiction. In his collection of short stories by Swedish authors, A Darker Shade of Sweden, John-Henri Holmberg says that Swedish crime fiction today is “at both an enormously exciting and a chaotic stage of its ongoing development.” The book was reviewed here in Freshly Baked Books in January.

I have omitted many authors and books, but the number of detective mysteries being published now is mind-boggling. And, with the popularity of this type of fiction so high, many more will come.

Who is your favorite crime fiction writer?

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