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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.