Creative writing genres are numerous, and there are many that have died out over the years. One of those which has maintained a steady popularity in the last two centuries is crime fiction, which continues to appeal to readers’ imaginations. These books are generally centered around crimes, those that commit them and the investigators involved in bringing the guilty to justice (or not). Even though there were stories about mystery and murder recorded as early as the hieroglyphic societies, the genre did not become notably recognized until the 19th century. The turning point came when Edgar Allan Poe released The Murders in the Rue Morgue, in 1841.
Like many other genres, crime fiction became a part of the series which were written for dime novels, and later pulp magazines. They were first published in the pulps as ‘weird menace,’ and involved an impossible-to-solve story which included supernatural events. These were normally explained scientifically in the grand finale. These writers would also solve the mystery, without the genre’s signature protagonist, the ‘private-eye.’ After pulp magazines began to lose their popularity, crime fiction was adapted for comic books, and strips, such as the popular Secret Agent X9.
The mysterious element and gripping plots of many early crime fiction novels, made them exceedingly popular with readers. Many authors were still reluctant to have their stories published using their real names, however, and wrote under catchy pseudonyms instead. There was the misconception that writing for the cheap pulp magazines, meant that the quality of the work was also poor, as well as the fact that many of the writers were also using their given names in other genres. Authors who did not have a good reputation from writing previous novels, would be inclined to use pseudonyms to restart their careers.
The use of pseudonyms continues today as writers who have other professions may choose to keep their identities separate. They transfer their knowledge from the other areas of work to their stories, which allows them anonymity while being recognized for their creative writing skills. A popular example of this is British judge, Arthur Alexander Gordon Clark, who used his extensive knowledge of the legal system to write crime novels under the name Cyril Hare.
In these stories, ascertaining the truth about who committed the crime (normally murder) takes the reader on a complicated journey. They follow the detective as he/she uses a combination of intuition, logic and observation to identify the criminal.
Wilkie Collins has been referred to as ‘the grandfather of English detective fiction.’ His novel The Moonstone as ‘the first, the longest and the best of modern English detective novels…’ set the precedence for most detective fiction. Aspects for a good story in the genre normally included:
- A crime committed in an English country house, with a close associate of the victim either committing the crime themselves or assisting the perpetrator.
- An intelligent, well-known investigator & a clueless local constabulary, which often causes more harm than good during the investigation.
- A wide range of suspects, with the one who is least likely to have committed the crime doing it.
- The reader being taken through the process of reconstructing and investigating the crime, with an expected twist in the plot, normally near the end of the novel.