As the strong
man exults in his physical ability, delighting in such exercises as call
his muscles into action, so glories the analyst in that moral activity
Edgar Allan Poe (1809–45), short-story writer. The Murders in
the Rue Morgue (1841).
"The butler did it!" Mysteries are often associated
with that cliché and others, but unlike many other books, mysteries
invite, even encourage the reader to guess the outcome. Mysteries are
unique in literature, since the outcome of the protagonist is known from
the onset. The only question is how they will accomplish the outcome and
often, "Who did it?". Some
authors have broken from this formula from time to time, but rarely in a
way that the protagonist actually fails. Whether in an interrogation room
tricking the evil doer into implicating themselves or in a sitting room
with all the suspects gathered awaiting the investigator's revelation
of the killer, mysteries follow a formula that is comfortable. This
formula, linked to a memorable protagonist, lends itself well to the
series with many becoming series.
Most mystery stories deal with murder. Many deal with
multiple murders. This may not be realistic from today's standards, but it
is fiction after all. Many of the modern writers avoid this pattern with
excellent results; but, there is something about those books where the
chief witness is discovered dead before they could reveal their secrets to
the sleuth that draws us, the reader, into turning the next page.
No mention of Mysteries could be complete without the
mention of three authors. Edgar Allen Poe for his Murder in the Rue
Morgue, which often described as the first modern mystery story.
If Edgar Allen Poe invented the modern mystery story, then Sir Arthur
Conan Doyle brought it to the masses with his serialized adventures of the
gentleman that resided at 221B Baker Street, the one and only Sherlock
Holmes. The last author that must be mentioned, if only because her name
is synonymous with the phrase "Mystery Writer', is the famous Agatha
Christie. Agatha Christie also presented the reader with one of the most
unlikely sleuths in the embodiment of Miss Marple.
The rest of the authors
presented here do not necessarily represent the best in the field, only
the best of those that I have read. Most Mystery Series are written in a
chronological order, but those that are not offer the reader two choices
of paths for reading about their favorite sleuth. The books here are
presented in the chronological order of the sleuth, not necessarily the
author. If you see the name of an author you do not recognize I encourage
you to find the first book in the series and curl up one stormy night to
see if you can catch a killer.