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Who Invented the Mystery Novel?


It should come as no surprise to those of us who love to read and write in the mystery/thriller genre that it is the most read fiction genre (61%) among mature fiction readers. (Harris Poll.) Nor should it surprise us that female fiction readers read mystery/thriller/crime novels at a much higher rate than men (57% compared to 39%). What is it about the genre that attracts us, women especially, as its primary readership?

This speaks to the eternals of the genre that make it enduring. Whether a psychologically dense tale, a bone-chilling nightmare, or an international crime of espionage solved by a kick-ass female detective these stories all head for the darkest places in human consciousness. In other words, they all describe the human condition. It’s about conflict, danger and suspense, yet it’s more than about solving a mystery. It entails the means by which writers and their readers of each era can explore the everyday shocking and tragic events that make the News. The stories that resonate most are the ones that hit closest to home: power struggles, ambition, sex, fears; life and death matters.

But who wrote the first mystery? I’d wondered if perhaps someone had found hieroglyphic evidence left by an adventurous Egyptian scribe who might have written something like, “Tales of Mesopotamia: The Search for the Hidden Mummy.” I couldn’t find it on Amazon. Remember the Gutenberg printing press was invented in 1440 in Germany. Right about now you’re saying, “You dunce, everyone knows it was Edgar Allen Poe in 1841 who wrote The Murder in the Rue Morgue.” (Buzzer: aaack.) That would be incorrect. Do not pass Go, and do not collect one hundred dollars.

Good sleuths that you are, I bet you finally found the name Wilkie Collins, who in 1868 wrote “The Moonstone,” a detective novel replete with bumbling constables, the English countryside, red-herrings and a manor house where the mystery occurred. Wilkie was a small, friendly sort of bon vivant who loved women, travel and public praise, but who unfortunately possessed a disproportionately large head. He was friends with Charles Dickens who gave him professional support and the inspiration to combine Dickens’s own expansive novels with Poe’s ideas to write a detective novel. But alas, if you thought this was the answer…aaack again. I’m so sorry. (I just threw you a red herring and that’s what you get for calling me a dunce.)

Give up?

Wait for it…

It was Charles Felix.

WHO?

Charles Felix. He wrote the mystery novel, “The Notting Hill Mystery” in 1862. It began as a part of a magazine serial running in weekly installments in competition with Dickens’s own magazine called “Household Words.” It was so well received that it was published in its entirety in 1865 and was very successful. This genre had never been done before in book form and the publisher had to explain to readers they were expected to solve a sort of puzzle as they read it. But that wasn’t the only mystery.

It seems that Charles Felix was a fictitious name. For 149 years his real identity was unknown until Professor Paul Collins of Portland State University, driven by distraction and determination to get to the bottom of the real author, found the answer. After researching hundreds of documents and old newspaper articles he finally came upon another novel written by Felix two years before, called “Velvet Lawn.” He was able to find the name of the publisher (Saunders & Otley) and a connection to an article in a gossip column that mentioned Felix was the sole representative of the firm that published “Velvet Lawn” and his name was Charles Warren Adams. Thus, he was both the author and the publisher.

And, that folks is the answer to another mystery. Who was the first self-published author? The answer: Charles Warren Adams. And now you know.

You can keep up with Pat at her author website: http://pjwoodsauthor.com and her blog on her professional site: http://bonmotsandprosepublishing.com.

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