Walk into any bookstore in America, and the mystery genre will hold a place of prominence. There are bookstores dedicated to only mystery. However, a long-term glimpse into literary history shows the mystery story as a rather recent phenomenon.
The 19th century was the beleaguered launching pad of the mystery genre. Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” is widely considered the first detective
story--a genre unto itself--and it was published in 1841. It was almost 50 years later
when Sir Arthur Conan Doyle introduced his eccentric genius detective Sherlock Holmes, using many of the story tropes Poe introduced in 1841.
Otto Penzler has collected an impressive glimpse into the stories and authors who helped shape the mystery story in North America. The collection includes well-known writers who found fame outside the mystery genre--Washington Irving, Nathanial Hawthorne, Mark Twain, and Louisa May Alcott--along with writers who pioneered the genre but faded away in the grand literary scheme. The stories collected here run the gamut of mystery conventions, including detectives, dames, good, evil, riddles, crime and intrigue.
Penzler’s introduction shapes the gestation of mystery in North America and compares it to other countries where the genre found a foothold more readily. Penzler is quick to point out the mystery and crime fiction of the 20th century is far superior and supremely more vast, but this is an excellent collection
featuring the infancy of what is now required reading for many.