The first ever detective fiction; really?

There were usual suspects in the beginning: Wilkie Collins's The Moonstone, published in 1868, and Emile Gaboriau's first Monsieur Lecoq novel L'Affaire Lerouge, released in 1866 were generally known as the first detective fictions giving birth to this great genre. Occasionally some reserachers were bringing up some records of earlier works here and there; but in general the perception towards these titles as the pioneers of detective/crime fiction remained intact.

Then in 2011, The British Library first made the novel "The Notting Hill Mystery" available via print-on-demand, as part of a collection of hundreds of 19th century novels. While most sold just two to three copies apiece, The Notting Hill Mystery took off following an article in New York Times in January 2011 and a similiar article in Guardian this year (read it here) covered the book as well . The New York Times identified Charles Warren Adams as its author and described its ending as both "ingenious and utterly mad", and suddenly the book started selling hundreds of copies, prompting the library to issue its new trade edition this February.

The Plot

Source documents compiled by insurance investigator Ralph Henderson are used to build a case against Baron "R___", who is suspected of murdering his wife. The baron's wife died from drinking a bottle of acid, apparently while sleepwalking in her husband's private laboratory. Henderson's suspicions are raised when he learns that the baron recently had purchased five life insurance policies for his wife. As Henderson investigates the case, he discovers not one but three murders. Although the baron's guilt is clear to the reader even from the outset, how he did it remains a mystery. Eventually this is revealed, but how to catch him becomes the final challenge; he seems to have committed the perfect crime.

The British Library's new edition has been produced using photographs of the original 1863 edition, which featured illustrations by George du Maurier, grandfather of Daphne du Maurier.

The First Ever Detective Fiction?

We became curious about the recent buzz around The Notting Hill Mystery and have been looking up the records to see if we can find the traces of an earlier work of fiction in this genre. We have found some interesting information in which we are evaluating now and will share them with you in a few days. And it's possible that our finding change the status of this book as the oldest work of detective fiction. Stay Tuned!


(More at or @mysterytribune)

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Comment by Benjamin Sobieck on February 24, 2012 at 4:01pm

Is that all? I thought the tradition was a lot older than that.

Comment by D. L. R. on February 24, 2012 at 3:16pm

Oh, I suppose it would be ideal just to refer to the actual text:

Comment by D. L. R. on February 24, 2012 at 3:05pm

From Wikipedia 


The Murders in the Rue Morgue" is a short story by Edgar Allan Poe published inGraham's Magazine in 1841. It has been recognized as the first detective story;[1][2] Poe referred to it as one of his "tales of ratiocination".[1] Two works that share some similarities predate Poe's stories, including Das Fräulein von Scuderi (1819) by E.T.A. Hoffmann[3] and Zadig (1748) by Voltaire.[4]

C. Auguste Dupin is a man in Paris who solves the mystery of the brutal murder of two women. Numerous witnesses heard a suspect, though no one agrees on what language was spoken. At the murder scene, Dupin finds a hair that does not appear to be human.

As the first true detective in fiction, the Dupin character established many literary devices which would be used in future fictional detectives including Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot. Many later characters, for example, follow Poe's model of the brilliant detective, his personal friend who serves as narrator, and the final revelation being presented before the reasoning that leads up to it. Dupin himself reappears in "The Mystery of Marie Rogêt" and "The Purloined Letter".

Comment by Ehsan Ehsani on February 24, 2012 at 11:54am

NICE.....:) I guess these folks were strictly talking about detective fiction. Do you think Poe's work falls into that category?

Comment by D. L. R. on February 24, 2012 at 11:15am

But…? "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" by Edgar Allen Poe, was published iin Graham’s Magazine in 1841.

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