Sunday, January 19, 2014

8 Classic Detective Stories That AREN'T Sherlock Holmes

(from huffingtonpost.com
by Andrew De Young)


Sherlock-mania is everywhere these days. Between the popular BBC series starring Benedict Cumberbatch, CBS's Elementary, and the recent Robert Downey Jr. movies, we can't seem to get enough of the brilliant, moody Sherlock Holmes and his long suffering companion, Dr. John Watson.

But sadly, there's only so much Sherlock to go around. What's a Sherlockian to after they've read all four of Arthur Conan Doyle's Holmes novels, and every last one of the stories?

Luckily for us, Doyle wasn't the first--or last--writer to dream up stories of an eccentric detective solving impossible crimes armed with nothing but his wits and a bit of deductive reasoning. For those who've come to the end of Sherlock Holmes and still want more, here are eight more classic tales of mystery and murder to keep you busy.


1. Edgar Allan Poe's Dupin stories: Sherlock Holmes may be the most famous detective in literary history--but he's hardly the first. That honor probably belongs to C. Auguste Dupin, the brilliant French detective dreamed up by Edgar Allan Poe. Dupin first appeared in the 1841 story "The Murders in the Rue Morgue," and then came back for "The Mystery of Marie Roget" and "The Purloined Letter." These short stories established many of the conventions that Doyle would follow years later in his Holmes stories, including that of narrating the adventures of the brilliant detective from the perspective of a close friend.



2. Wilkie Collins's The Moonstone: If Edgar Allan Poe is responsible for the first fictional detective, it's Wilkie Collins, Charles Dickens's friend and rival, who wrote the first real detective novel, 1868's The Moonstone. Featuring drugs, stolen jewels, fancy parties, a marriage plot, and of course a brilliant inspector, it's a fun story that almost certainly influenced Doyle when it came time to create his own fictional detective.



Rex Stout's Fer De Lance: Nero Wolfe may not be America's most famous fictional detective--but he is surely its most Sherlockian. Solving crimes in New York from his well-appointed brownstone on West 35th Street, Wolfe's got all the right traits to please Holmes obsessives: eccentricities, intellect, and even a loyal companion to narrate his exploits. Another plus: if you like Nero Wolfe, he'll keep you busy for a while--Rex Stout wrote 33 books in the series!



Agatha Christie's Murder On The Orient Express: No list of classic detective stories would be complete without the "Queen of Crime"--and of Agatha Christie's many novels, none is more justly famous than Murder on the Orient Express. It's a classic locked-room setup: a train, the Orient Express, is stopped in its tracks by a snowdrift. Sometime in the night, a passenger is murdered. But his compartment was locked from the inside--so who killed him, and how did they pull it off? The only man who can solve the mystery is another passenger: private detective Hercule Poirot, a character who bears similarities to both Sherlock Holmes and Poe's Dupin.



Charles Dickens' Bleak House: Yes, even Charles Dickens wrote a story about a detective. Of course, Bleak House isn't exactly a detective novel--in typical Dickensian fashion, the detective plot is only one among many--but it does feature one of the first and best detectives in fiction: Inspector Bucket of the London Metropolitan Police. The novel is one of Dickens's longest and most complex, offering a sprawling panorama of social class, poverty, and crime in Victorian London. Bleak House is a doorstop--but it's also a masterpiece.



Mary Elizabeth Braddon's Lady Audley's Secret: 19th-century writer Mary Elizabeth Braddon was known for writing what were then called "sensation novels:" narratives of scandal and intrigue set among the upper classes. In Lady Audley's Secret, a barrister named Robert Audley becomes a reluctant amateur detective when he begins to suspect that his uncle's wife might be hiding something about her past. It's a compelling read--and a fascinating window into the strange obsessions of those uptight Victorians.



Robert Louis Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde: The story of Jekyll and Hyde is perhaps best known as a horror story--but it's a detective story too, since the lawyer Mr. Utterson must become an amateur sleuth to figure out what's going on with his client, the respected Dr. Jekyll. You probably know how this one turns out, but it's still a compelling read, and offers a good look at a mystery genre that was still in its infancy.



Kate Summerscale's The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: All right, so it might be too early to label Kate Summerscale's 2009 true-crime book a "classic," but I'm including it in this list because it tells a true story of crime and detection that may have inspired many of the writers I've already mentioned to create their fictional detectives in the first place. Telling the story of a horrifying 1860 murder and the detective assigned to the case, The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher is a vivid reminder that it wasn't just detective fiction that was in its infancy in the 1800s; real-life detectives were trailblazers in a brand-new profession, and the public was still deciding how this new type of law enforcement fit into society. If you're a Sherlockian with an interest in history, I guarantee you'll love it.



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