FIRST MYSTERY NOVELS

Susan Vaughan here. Some friends and I were sharing what were the first novels for adults that really hooked us. For me, it was mysteries. Every Saturday as far back as I can recall, I went to the local library with my mother. Once I’d gone through all the Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden mysteries, I started reading what my mother read.The first adult mystery I remember absolutely loving was Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, a Hercule Poirot. The puzzle fascinated me, and I thought Poirot was a hoot. After that, I read all of Christie’s books and moved on to Erle Stanley Gardner’s Perry Mason series.

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So when I asked authors online to share with me what was the first mystery that drew them into the genre, I was inundated with responses. Agatha Christie’s books were the doorway into adult mysteries for several people. For Marni Graff (The Scarlet Wench) the book that drew her into reading mysteries was 4.50 From Paddington, a Miss Marple. She wrote, “I was fascinated by the premise and it led me to read ALL of her books in print at that time.” Kathryn Jane (Voices) loved Christie’s books “as she kept me guessing and turning pages to find out the answers. Later when buying my own books, I discovered Mary Stewart, and romantic suspense/mystery took root in my soul.”

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I too loved Mary Stewart’s books with the combination of mystery and romance. She even made the romance mysterious because often the heroine, as well as the reader, didn’t know if the handsome man hanging around was a villain or her hero. The Moonspinners was a favorite, as it was for Kate George (Crazy Little Thing Called Dead, Take Two), and she followed up with mysteries that were quite different, ones by Dame Agatha and P.D. James. “The detectives were flawed, but astute,” she wrote.

Rebecca Grace (Blues at 11) found mystery authored by another pioneer in the romantic-suspense genre, Phyllis A. Whitney. Rebecca wrote, “She set the books in different parts of the country, and I always learned something about the location from her books.” Marsha R. West (Second Act) echoed that sentiment. “I still have visuals I developed from some of her books in foreign lands.” More than one author named another early romantic-suspense luminary—Daphne du Maurier. Marsha R. West wrote that Rebecca set the standard for her. Vicki Batman (Temporarily Employed) was instantly entranced by the opening lines of that book. And for her, it is always “the unraveling of the puzzle and heroes and heroines I could identify with.”

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Beth Kanell (Cold Midnight) particularly loved mysteries by John Dickson Carr, John Creasey, and Mary Roberts Rinehart, for the “combination of dark suspense with confidence that somehow, under pressure, the protagonist would solve the crime.” J.E. Seymour (Stress Fractures) read all of Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe series. “I loved everything about Nero Wolfe, the fact that he stayed at home and solved mysteries with just the power of his mind, the greenhouse full of prized orchids, and his sidekick who did all the legwork.” What Nancy Eady liked about those books was the “interplay between the regular cast of characters and the challenge of the mysteries.”

And no discussion of the power of a mystery novel would be complete without a nod to Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes.


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Even at age ten, Edith Maxwell (Farmed and Dangerous) was fascinated by Sherlock’s methods and by the storytelling. Margaret Carroll (Riptide) shared that she has trouble to this day with crossword puzzles because she read Sherlock instead of paying attention in seventh grade to the unit on Greek mythology. (I hope none of my seventh-grade students didn’t tune out when I taught that unit.)

Other authors were mentioned, but I chose to share the ones who most often inspired readers to dig into the mystery genre in a big way. I’d love to know what authors and titles lured you into the mystery genre.

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17 Responses to FIRST MYSTERY NOVELS

  1. Heidi Wilson says:

    When I finished Isaac Asimov’s Lucky Starr series for children (sci fi mysteries solved by Lucky Starr, Space Ranger), I never picked up another mystery till high school. Then I stumbled right into the big time: a Dorothy L. Sayers in the school book store. I’ve racked my brains to remember which one it was, but now I’ve read them all so many times that the sequence escapes me. The downside was that I never found a mystery author as good until Tana French came along. Has everybody read her latest, The Secret Place? It’s the best yet.

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  2. Lea Wait says:

    Poe was my first mystery love … so many wonderful authors to choose from!

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  3. Beth Kanell says:

    Susan, I was tickled that you and I shared the pattern of library visits with our moms, leading us to read what they were borrowing to read. Enjoyed your post here of so many good doors into the love of mysteries.

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  4. Rhonda Lane says:

    What a fun post! I love seeing the sources that sparked a writer’s imagination. Thank you!

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  5. David Edgar Cournoyer says:

    Susan: Thanks for a great post. My rural elementary school was a half block from the public library and a pass to leave school and walk to the library was a welcome escape from the drudgery of the classroom. There books above my ability such as those by Mark Twain and Jack London taught me to be a better reader. Later I discovered the works of Dick Francis, and although not a horse person or British, I enjoyed his realistic characters and stories with the tiniest hint of romance and little graphic violence. Although I now read many genres and authors including nonfiction, I still like (and write) mysteries that entertain through character and interesting plots rather than sensationalism.

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  6. Fun post, Susan!

    Like my friend Beth Kanell, I was drawn in by Mary Roberts Reinhart. I don’t recall if I checked them out of the library or bought them at a book sale, but I remember feeling very grown up to be reading adult mysteries.

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  7. Hey, Susan. Great post. So fun to read how many authors we have in common. I think you did a good job tying all the responses together, too. I’m also a big fan of the library both as a kid and an adult. In the early years, when money was tight, those weekly trips to the library for me and our kids were really important. My mom was a big Agatha Christie fan, too. Not enough romance for me in those books. 🙂 I’ll share.

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  8. The first mystery I can remember reading was Mickey Spillane’s I THE JURY. I immediately went out and got MY GUN IS QUICK. I remember (and now I’m dating myself) buying them in paperback at the local drugstore…they were twenty-five cents each!

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  9. Great post. I really enjoyed seeing the books that inspired others. I’d forgotten about Dorothy Sayers, but I also loved her books too. And Rebecca was always one of my favorites. I still have a copy that I pick up and read every so often.

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  10. Sue Anderson says:

    Agatha Christie was my first adult mystery writer. I still reread her books today.

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