Archive for the 19th Century Mysteries Category

The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books (2017) – Martin Edwards

Posted in 19th Century Mysteries, Agatha Christie, Classic Mystery Reviews, Dorothy L. Sayers, Golden Age Mysteries, History of Mystery, Margery Allingham on January 10, 2018 by cshmurak


I received this book as a Christmas gift and I’ve been having a wonderful time with it!

My first instinct — and this may be yours as well, since you are a reader of this blog — was to go through the Table of Contents, pencil in hand, and check off all the books I’d already read. Results: 30 out of 100.  Hmmm, not too bad, but so many more books to enjoy.  Next I turned to the chapter on Trent’s Last Case, my personal favorite of the early classics (see my review here). Good summary and analysis, no spoilers, and a brief bio of E.C. Bentley. Nice.

Then I began to read the book cover-to-cover. For each mystery, Edwards gave just enough detail for me to decide whether this was a mystery that I simply had to read, or whether it just wasn’t my cup of tea. I ended up with a long list of books, some of which I’ve been able to download at no cost from The Gutenberg Project or purchase very cheaply from iBooks.

The organization of the book must have been quite a challenge, but I like what Martin Edwards has done here. It starts off (mostly) chronologically with a section on “A New Era Dawns,” then “The Birth of the Golden Age.” Once Edwards arrives at the Golden Age, there are so many books to discuss that he groups them by theme: “The Great Detectives,” manor house mysteries, academic mysteries, ‘impossible’ crimes, inverted mysteries, humorous mysteries etc. American mysteries get their own chapter.

Have I finished this book? No, not yet. There’s too much to savor here. But I know I will, and I’m grateful to Mr. Edwards for his monumental work and all the fascinating books that I’m going to read because of his book.

[You can buy The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books here.]


The Moonstone (1868) – Wilkie Collins

Posted in 19th Century Mysteries, Classic Mystery Reviews, History of Mystery, Mysteries with tags , , on February 8, 2010 by cshmurak

When The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins first appeared in 1868, it was printed in weekly installments in Charles Dickens’s magazine All the Year Round. Each week, readers thronged the streets in front of the magazine office, eager for the next part. No book, except Collins’s The Woman in White, published 8 years earlier, had ever received such a reception. Many years later, the poet T.S. Eliot would refer to The Moonstone as “the first, the longest, and the best of the modern English detective novels.”

The Moonstone is a diamond – not the semi-precious stone we call “moonstone” today – stolen from a statue of the moon god in India and later inherited by the young Rachel Verinder on her 18th birthday. It disappears the same night, and the three Hindu men reportedly seen nearby are immediately suspected. But of course things are not so simple as they first appear, and it is well over a year before the diamond is recovered and the mystery of its theft is solved. In the interim, many lives have been disrupted and several characters are dead.

The story is told in a series of narratives by some of the characters, making them much like witnesses at a trial. In this book, Collins originated many of the conventions of the mystery genre: a crime at an English country home, a small group of suspects present when the crime occurs, a bumbling local policeman, and investigation by both a talented amateur detective and the celebrated detective from Scotland Yard.

Life moved at a different pace in the 19th century, and books from the mid-1800s reflect that. Reading The Moonstone takes some patience in 2010, but it’s well worth it. The first-time reader will be intrigued by the mystery of the gem’s disappearance, while the re-reader can savor the gentle humor of some of the narratives and the biting satire of some of the others.