Who Should You Thank?

Guest Post – Markus Kane


Who Should You Thank For the Invention of the Murder Mystery? Look to Your Lawyer

Murder mysteries are everywhere. In 2013, a Library Journal survey showed that more than half of public libraries report that mysteries are their single most popular genre, and that the category is responsible for almost a quarter of printed fiction published each year.

Readers, it seems, have a taste for murder.

But it wasn’t always so. As a genre that boasts millions of adoring fans, authors of household name status, and enough new yearly material to fill a morgue, the murder mystery is a youngster.

The American Roots of the Murder Mystery

In 1841, American author and poet Edgar Allan Poe published The Murders in the Rue Morgue, a short story that introduced the exploits of sleuth C. Auguste Dupin. Widely credited by critics as the first true detective story, Poe followed it in 1842 and 1845 with two more shorts featuring Dupin. With them the detective genre, and its now well-known tropes, was born.

The world Poe lived in was a world of change. The police forces that modern readers take for granted were relatively new phenomena, as was mass literacy and access to cheaply produced reading material. Poe, born in 1809 and dead just over 40 years later, grew up in a world where the tales of police exploits became huge best sellers. In 1828 and 1829, a four-volume memoir written by the former head of the French Sûreté thrilled readers in Europe and America with the tales of the life of a criminal investigator. The success of those books spurred a long-running interest in the lives of police and the criminals they chased.

The Mystery Author of Mysteries

But while Poe may have written the first murder mystery short stories, the first true mystery novel (probably) sprang from the mind of an English lawyer.

According to Paul Collins, the first true murder mystery/detective novel appeared in 1862 and 1863, published as a serial in Once a Week magazine. The Notting Hill Mystery tells the story of Ralph Henderson, an insurance investigator tasked to prove that the nefarious “Baron R__” killed his wife by poisoning her with acid.

The author of the serialized novel was credited as “Charles Felix,” a man no one at Once a Week had ever met. A well-reviewed book in its time, Charles Felix only published three other works, then appeared to disappear forever.

But Collins says that Charles Felix never disappeared at all. He claims that Felix was actually Charles Warren Adams, a lawyer who just happened to be the sole publisher of Saunders, Otley, and Co.

Adams had bailed out the publishing company after its two owners died, and used his position to publish his first novel, Velvet Lawns, under the Felix pseudonym. The Notting Hill Mystery followed a year later.

For Collins, the tip-off came when he discovered a mention of Adams in a gossip column, stating that Charles Felix was his well-known pen name. That, along with the book’s descriptions of legal procedures and other clues, lead Collins to conclude that the murder mystery novel sprang from Adams’s hand.

So, the next time you find yourself wandering the shelves looking for a new mystery, give some thought to where the genre began and, maybe, thank your lawyer.

Markus Kane is a writer (and former attorney) living in Kansas City. His newest novel, Mystery Ink: The Girl My Town Forgot, is available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.


Serial Characters

In the world of serial mystery protagonists, it’s often the case that personality quirks are what glue the readers to their favorite sleuths. While the tension within the plot is paramount to the movement of the individual stories, it’s the connection to the returning sleuth that draws the reader back to the series, time and time again.

Who of us will ever forget the importance of Columbo’s raincoat, which holds such a strong place in his psyche, that he “can’t think” and solve the cases without it.  The viewer discovered the power of this coat when, in one episode, his wife bought him a new one for his birthday and he deliberately tried to lose it.

In Susan Dunlap’s Darcy Lott mystery series, Darcy has a phobia about going into the woods, which is due to a bad experience she had when she was four years old.

Sara Paretsky’s character, V I Warshawski, is a serial monogamist, following a failed marriage of 18 months, when she was young. Now, she chooses to live alone.

Travis McGee, John D. McDonald’s serial protagonist, owns a custom-built Rolls-Royce which was converted into a pickup truck and painted a horrible blue. He named the vehicle “Miss Agnes” after one of his teachers whose hair was the same color as the converted pickup.

In the first Mystery, Ink. novel, Murder Times Two, our amateur sleuth, Natalie Ryan, owner of the Mystery, Ink. Bookstore, hoards food. This started when she was a child in a house with many children, and, often, the portions of food were small. In those days, to keep her stomach from growling, she would sneak an extra biscuit or a piece of cheese into one of her pockets. Today, with this strong, though unrealistic fear that someday she might not have enough to eat, she is a major hoarder with a hidden pantry, which plays an important part in the mystery.

It’s those seemingly small side issues that add up to a rich, fully-developed character readers will love.

Available on Kindle

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QUESTION: Since Columbo’s first name was never spoken throughout the series, was the viewer ever given a chance to discover it?


Welcome to the Mystery, Ink. Novels Blog. We, Suella Walsh and Lawrence Walsh, are the Managing Editors of Mystery, Ink. Novels, an imprint of Goldminds Publications (Nashville, Tennessee). In the summer of 2011, we were commissioned to create the eerie town of Centerville, the Mystery, Ink. Bookstore, and the sleuths that solve the mysteries in the ongoing series. From there, the authors have created dynamic, page-turner plots that mystery readers will love.

Today Image,as an introduction to the series, we focus on the town of Centerville. The town square has cobblestone streets and brick buildings that surround a lush, green park. Within the park, a dark, brooding watch tower chimes every hour on the hour and a pedestal supports an enormous sculpture of a raven. No one remembers the significance of this sculpture. It’s just always been there.

Two unsolved mysteries keep town gossip going. One happened thirty years ago. Doctor Adams was murdered in the town square, strangled and left to die on a park bench in the middle of the night. The next day it was also discovered that Rita Jennings, a waitress, was found murdered in the doctor’s house, which sits on the crest of a hill, empty to this day. The murders have never been solved.

The second mystery involves Clay Jordon, a janitor who, on one stormy night seven years ago, never arrived home after his shift at work. There is no sign of foul play and no sign of him–ever.

These unsolved mysteries set a backdrop for the tone of this town, which residents believe is jinxed. And as mysteries abound throughout the series, this belief becomes set in stone.

What is the setting of your favorite mystery novel?