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Literature and Crime - The Mystery Novel

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In the mid-nineteenth century, a new form of crime literature arose: the detective or mystery novel. Invented by Edgar Allan Poe in America, this genre usually has a crime or mystery to be solved and a highly intelligent hero who, through logic or patient investigation or preternatural understanding of the criminal mind, finds the solution. Poe's stories "The Purloined Letter" and "The Gold Bug" and his clever detective Dupin started a popular literary trend that shows no sign of abating.

The mystery novel next flourished in England with The Moonstone and The Woman in White, both by Wilkie Collins. Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes tales are classics of the form, as are the works of Dorothy Sayers, Agatha Christie, and P. D. James. In the United States in the twentieth century, Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, Mickey Spillane, and Rex Stout made, with their tough, lean prose, enormous contributions to the modern crime novel.

In France, the prolific Georges Simenon wrote psychologically penetrating books about crime with his fictional police inspector Maigret at the center. Books such as The Blue Knight and The Centurions made former policeman Joseph Wambaugh the dean of American police novelists. From the genre of true crime, Meyer Levin's Compulsion, Truman Capote's In Cold Blood, Norman Mailer's The Executioner's Song, and Joe McGinniss's Fatal Vision are sterling books.

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