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The Case of the First Mystery Novelist

Conan Doyle? Wilkie Collins? Émile Gaboriau? "Reader, never mind whether the butler did it. Here's a real mystery for you: Who wrote the first detective novel?" Paul Collins reveals the rare book mystery in his New York Times article.

Published on 11 Jan. 2011

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Paul Collins in the New York Times


“Reader, never mind whether the butler did it. Here’s a real mystery for you: Who wrote the first detective novel?

For years, the usual suspect was Wilkie Collins, who made the great leap from Poe’s short stories to the Victorian triple-decker novel with 'The Moonstone,' published in 1868. Across the Channel, there was Émile Gaboriau and his Monsieur Lecoq, who made his first appearance a few years earlier in 'L’Affaire Lerouge,' though Arthur Conan Doyle later had Sherlock Holmes declare Lecoq 'a miserable bungler.'

In 1975, however, the novelist and critic Julian Symons revealed in The Times of London a veritable hidden panel in the library of detective literature: a third novel that predates them both. It was 'The Notting Hill Mystery,' an anonymous eight-part serial that ran in Once a Week magazine starting on Nov. 29, 1862. But the book itself presented something of a mystery.

'It is unnecessary for us to state by what means the following papers came into our hands. ...,” the editors of Once a Week declared. And that was just the problem. Symons pointed out that nobody knew who the author — identified by the pseudonym Charles Felix when the novel was released in book form in 1865 — really was.

But reader, I know whodunit …”

Paul Collins reveals the mystery in his New York Times article:

>>> The Case of the First Mystery Novelist

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