July – August 1993

Genre forms in fiction are here today and gone tomorrow, but the mystery story has been steadily popular since its introduction in the last century. American writer Edgar Allan Poe is generally given credit for writing the first detective story, but there have been stories about crime and murder since the beginning of time. However, since the concept of the professional detective force did not develop until the early 1800’s with the establishment of the Surete in France, followed by metropolitan police forces in England and New York City, the detective based mystery could not appear until the mid eighteenth century at the earliest. It is probably no accident that these three countries, the first to professionalize their police forces, are the primary sources of the early detective or mystery stories.

Ever since the 1841 publication of The Murders in the Rue Morgue the world, the fictional world, has been happily flooded with detectives, both professional and amateur, and their nemeses. Some of the most distinctive characters in literature have stepped out of the pages of detective novels and short stories — Sherlock Holmes, Professor Moriarity, Hercule Poirot, Father Brown, Fu Manchu, et al., — and into the common culture. Writers such as Agatha Christie and Erle Stanley Gardner published novels that sold in the multi-millions. Years after her death Agatha Christie is still one of the best selling authors in the world. Virtually every library has several of her books in stock. In this exhibition, we have attempted to take a look at some of those attributes of the genre that have led to such lasting popularity.

This exhibition was prepared by Sandy Ballasch, Rebecca L. Johnson, and Helen Ryan, with the assistance of Christine Walters and Randy Essing.