MYSTERY – history and characteristics – 1st part

By | Novembre 28, 2017


Mystery (also known as Crime Novel or Detective Novel) is one of the most important, well-known and valued Narrative Genre of all time.

scrittissimo come scrivere un libro, un romanzo, un raccontoBut before starting this lesson there’s something I want to tell you. This article is the translation in English language of another article written by myself in Italian and titled: MYSTERY – storia e caratteristiche – prima parte”.

So I do apologize in advance for any translation error, for any English grammar error and for any syntax error. So, let’s go forward with this lesson! 🙂

Mystery – history and characteristics – 1st part

The peculiar feature of a Mystery Story is the presence of an extended and complex enigma to solve, a mystery able to lead from the beginning to the end the Main Narrative Line and to influence the progress of all the Secondary Narrative Lines.

The mystery to solve is, generally, a dramatic situation like a murder or a kidnapping. However, because of the wide scope of this Narrative Genre and the infinite number of content it can support, the enigma in question may also have a lighter, even comical meaning.

mistery history and characteristics

In the traditional Mystery the “case solution” is carried out by an authoritative figure such as a police detective or a private investigator or a “qualified to investigate” figure, such as, for example, Miss Marple of Agatha Christie.

Mystery and Subgenres

As I said shortly, depending on the content and characteristics of the story, Mystery offers a myriad of diversifications that give life to numerous Narrative Subgenres. Let’s see some of them:

Amateur Detective / Amateur Sleuth: is a type of Mystery characterized by the presence of an investigative figure who is not a professional worker but is a common citizen who possesses the virtue of finding and analyzing clues. This individual often captures nuances in the investigation process that traditional professional figures don’t notice, don’t know or don’t understand.

The Amateur Detective is opposed to the Private Eye, Private Detective and Hard Boiled subgeneres where the figures who investigating the case are well-established professionals and have an investigative license.

Cozy Mystery: is a typology of Mystery characterized by a very narrow Setting, such as a small town, a building or even a single room and a Cast of characters composed of a few individuals.

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Courtroom Drama: It is a highly dramatic Mystery that develops in the courtroom. The story usually involves a team of lawyers who have to prove the innocence of the client by finding the real culprit.

Hard Boiled: This type of Mystery is considered the forerunner of the most modern Private Eye. In Hard Boiled, the figure of the private investigator is crude, definitely unconventional, little inclined to professionalism.

However, as happens in Private Eye, the Story unfolds through the investigations carried out by the private investigator that comes to the solution of the case, mainly thanks to his own strengths and his own knowledge.

Intuitionist: In this type of Mystery the investigator / detective solves the puzzle based primarily on reasoning.

Inverted Detective Story / Howcathem: in this type of Mystery the crime and the identity of the one who committed it are shown at the beginning of Narrative. The detective’s task is to prove the guiltiness of the criminal even though the Reader already knows the identity and often the motivations that led him to commit it.

The Inverted Mystery is considered the opposite of Whodunit where the details of crime and the solution of the enigma are revealed only at the end of the Narrative.

Locked Room/Impossible Crime: It is a type of Mystery characterized by a crime (usually a murder) happened in a way (apparently) impossible to explain.

The classic example is the one where the victim is found dead in a room cloded from the inside and the suicide or the intrusion of the murderous seem totally unlikely. Hence the name Locked Room, namely sealed room.

Police Procedural: It is a kind of mystery in which it is given special importance to the entire procedure followed by the police to arrive at the solution of the case.

Private Eye/Private Detective: It is a type of Mystery that some experts consider the derivation or the “modern version” of the Narrative Genre ‘Hard Boiled. In this subgenre prevails the figure of the private investigator (Private Eye) who investigates the case by relying on his/her (legitimate) investigation and his/her own abilities.

Whodonit: This is the most traditional Mystery type. In the Whodonit (the abbreviation of who has done it?) the clues collected by the investigator are immediately revealed so that the Reader can also solve the puzzle by the end of the Story. Anyway the crime solution is revealed only at the end of the Narrative.

In this regard, in 1929, Ronald A. Knox published his famous Decalogue within the introduction to The Best Detective Stories of 1928-29.

In the Knox’s Decalogue are listed the 10 fundamental rules that each author of Whodonit should respect. These rules range from the prohibition of supernatural interventions.
in favor of the investigator to the obligation to make the culprit appear from the first pages.


Mystery and Cross-Genre

The diversifications of Mystery don’t finish here. All the Mystery Types we have seen in the previous paragraph may combine their own features with those of other major Genres in order to give origin to Narrative Cross-Genre. Here are some examples:

Comic Mystery: a Mystery designed to amuse and often characterized by a messy detective who, despite his rambling talents, succeeds in solving the case thanks to incredible strokes of fortune.

Fantasy Mystery: a Mystery characterized by contents, settings and characters fantastic or supernatural.

Romantic Mystery: The Story is characterized by romantic elements which overlap the mystery solution. For example, the investigator falls in love or is infatuated with the criminal that she/he’s looking for.

Historical Mystery: a Mystery Story that takes place in a specific and recognizable historical time. In Historical Mystery, great emphasis is given to historical details and their truthfulness.

Horror Mystery: a Mystery story that overlaps many Horror elements, like Locations, Setting, Mood or characters, to the enigma solution.

Sci-Fi Mystery: elements, characters, and Science Fiction settings overlap with the resolution of an enigma.

Techno Mystery: Technology is the core of this type of Mystery.

Young Adult Mystery: a Mystery story with content suitable to an audience of teenagers or young adults.

History of the Mystery

The Mystery, as we know it today, is a narrative genre emerging vigorously in the mid 1800’s thanks to the talent of one of the pioneers of the genre, the writer, poet and essayist Edgar Allan Poe.

Poe, in 1841, had the great merit to “invent” the investigative/police Mystery by making known to the general public the figure of the first fictional detective, Auguste C. Dupin.

Also, don’t forget that in the mid-1800s were diffusing in Europe the first true forms of organized police . Probably Poe was inspired by the figure of Eugène-François Vidocq, the founder of Public Security in France to give body and shape to the character of Dupin.

Dupin is the Protagonist of three Short Novels:

The murders in the Rue Morgue of 1841

The mistery of Marie Rogét of 1842

The purloined Letter of 1845

Dupin, thanks to his methodical personality and his scientific reasoning, is considered the founder of a long series of investigators who led to the creation of great Characters like Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot.

British writer Charles Dickens and his friend and collaborator, the British writer Wilkie Collins, gave a big contribution to the diffusion of the Mystery.

Charles Dickens wrote numerous Stories rich in Mystery and suspense elements including Bleak House (1852-1853) and (unfinished) The Mystery of Edwin Drood (1870). Instead, Collins gave a big contribution to the Mystery Genre with The White Woman (1860) and The Moonstone (1868).

Genre Mystery continued to increase its success thanks to the contribution of US writer Anna Katharine Green, who in 1878 with the novel The Leavenworth case became the first woman to publish a detective story.

mystery history and characteristics

In this collection of Mystery writers can not miss the famous Scottish writer Sir Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle, who in 1887 published A Study in Scarlet, the first novel dedicated to Sherlock Holmes Investigations.

Three novels followed this novel:

To these remarkable works, Doyle followed other 59 Short Novels and three theatrical comedies dedicated to his famous investigator.

Finish of 1st part.

That’s all for today.

See you on the next parts of this article dedicated to Mystery Genre


Author & Admin of SCRITTISSIMO: ideas, techniques and tips to write a Novel, a Tale, a Story.