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Detectives And The Courtroom As Entertainment

As shown by the popular interest in the Lindbergh case, Americans have long been fascinated by the criminal justice process and the punishment of its criminals and outlaws. The rise of television in American popular culture in the 1950s and 1960s gave the viewing public the chance to enjoy shows about crime and the law. Writers have also taken advantage of the public's fascination, and fictional murder mysteries have been popular for decades.

The first novel published in the newly formed United States was a murder mystery by William H. Brown (1765–1793) called The Power of Sympathy. Books profiling criminals and their trials made "true crime" (crime that has actually happened) books one of the best selling categories in the publishing world by the late twentieth century.

Edgar Allan Poe (1809–1849) is generally recognized as the father of the modern mystery story. Poe, who was born in Virginia and worked as an editor and writer, published his first mystery story "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" in 1841. Poe followed with other classic tales like "The Tell-Tale Heart" and "The Pit and the Pendulum." These stories, combined with Poe's famous poem "The Raven," popularized horror and mystery stories in the United States and Great Britain.

Poe's work paved the way for writers such as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859–1930) and Agatha Christie (1890–1976). Doyle and Christie wrote about the adventures of fictional detectives. Doyle, a Scottish physician, created the most popular character in the murder mystery genre, Detective Sherlock Holmes. His great powers of observation and use of reasoning and logic to solve crimes made Holmes an enduring figure in popular fiction.

With his distinctive hat, pipe, and magnifying glass, Holmes caught the public's imagination in such novels as The Hound of the Baskervilles (1902) and The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes (1927). Doyle's fictional detective had become so popular that when he killed him off in "The Final Problem" (published in Strand magazine's December 1893 issue), the public was so outraged Doyle was forced to bring him back to life—but not until ten years later.

Agatha Christie, born in England, created stories featuring the exploits of Hercule Poirot. Poirot was a retired Belgian police officer who solved mysteries by meticulously (carefully) examining the facts and clues. Christie wrote more than thirty novels featuring the fictional Poirot, the most famous among them Murder on the Orient Express (1934) and Death on the Nile (1937).

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationCrime and Criminal LawMedia - History Of The Media And The Courts, Tried In The Media, The Crime Of The Century