The History of Mystery

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Vladimir Mortsgna's History of Mystery

There is some disagreement among the experts about the first mystery in the history of literature.  People use different definitions; I will define a mystery as a tale centered on the commission, prevention, or solution of a crime.  Even this is not quite enough definition.  For much of human civilization, and in most cultures, adultery was considered a crime, and many of the oldest books and stories told by humans take delight in adultery and clever tactics to prevent or succeed at this ancient pastime.  But stories of affairs are rarely considered mystery stories.  Generally, murder and theft and sometimes kidnapping are the subjects we most associate with mysteries. 

One of the earliest novels that we would recognize today as a mystery is The Moonstone (1868) by Willkie Collins, which was preceded by the three short stories by Edgar Allan Poe starring his character of C. Auguste Dupin, starting with "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" (1841).  The "Story of the three apples"  in the 1001 Arabian Nights involves the investigation of a murder - some feel that this should not count because the protagonist does not actually solve the murder but simply listens to the confessions of the murderers.  He had, however, been ordered to solve the murder, and in fact, was ready to be executed by his boss for his failure to solve it when he had the good fortune to be saved by the confessions.

The purpose of this website is to start a conversation about the greatest mysteries of all time, and other mystery-related topics as we encounter them.  I will start with my own list of the twenty greatest mysteries I have ever read.  Three major rules guide this list.  First, I have to have read the book.  If you find that you disagree with my list, it may be that the book you feel I left out is just one I haven't gotten to yet.  There are books that everyone else likes that I don't.  My second rule is that I won't be knocking any books whose authors are still alive and working - you'll just have to wonder about the omissions.  Third, in a list this short, I will include only two books from any one author.  Authors who are represented by the maximum of two include Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, and also the criminally underrated Martin Cruz Smith.  It wasn't hard to identify my favorite two Sherlock Holmes novels (though The Sign of the Four is great fun and a great adventure story and would have gone in a Top 50).  Picking only two Agatha Christies was very difficult, and you probably will not agree with my choices...

Now, check out the blog and weigh in!