CONVERSATIONS (CwHD) is a weblog about words and language and other nonsense. CwHD began May 1, 2017. Besides thematic essays, the site provides a vehicle for sharing my own words and language. In July, 2017, I opened The Bookstore. This page provides an overview of my published work. Print and ebook copies are available through my publishing website (link in sidebar):
What follows is a discussion of the six most influential authors of detective stories. In subsequent posts, brief biographies of those writers will make their appearance.
Top ten lists are ubiquitous. Any subject one cares to name probably has its list. Groups of ten are numerically satisfying. The metric system is a case in point. Such lists are brief, but still manage to capture the essence of the subject. Top ten novelists, top ten baseball players, top ten dogs, top ten automobiles: peruse the lists and one is immediately immersed in the subject. Which is not to mention the initial letter alliteration.
As my current project involves the equally ubiquitous detective novel, I thought it appropriate to list the most influential writers of this genre, and provide a brief biography of each. My list is not a top ten, nor a 'best' compilation. The list is comprised simply of six individuals who became benchmarks for all writers in this genre. The six will be listed in chronological order.
Wilkie Collins must certainly begin any such scheme. Two of his novels---The Woman In White (1859) and The Moonstone (1868) --- are still read and rank among the best written. Arthur Conan Doyle (A Study In Scarlet, 1886) next in line, is arguably the most influential of the group with his creation, Mr Sherlock Holmes. Agatha Christie (The Mysterious Affair At Styles, 1920) the most prolific of the group, has sold millions of books and her man, Hercule Poirot, is almost as well known as Holmes. Dashiell Hammett (The Maltese Falcon, 1930) and Raymond Chandler (The Big Sleep, 1939) come up next. These two created what amounts to a sub-genre of detective fiction. No more Mr Nice Guy. With Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe, the hard boiled detective takes center stage, and would set the tone for the next fifty years. Last on the list is Rex Stout (Fer-de-Lance, 1934). Stout, like Christie, was a word machine. He created Nero Wolfe in the 1930s; and took the concept of the locked room, a common motif throughout detective fiction, and turned it on its ear. Wolfe solves all his cases from the custom built chair in his office in the New York city brownstone where he resides.
Others beside these six might well have made the list. My time frame, however, is roughly 1850 to 1950. Many more minor --- they would not appreciate the label, I am sure --- writers have penned stories during this time frame: Philo Vance, Mickey Spillane and Charlie Chan's creator Earl Derr Biggers to name but three. But if 'influential' is the governing descriptor, I will stick with my 'big six.'