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The Technique of the Mystery Story
792 days ago 0 comments Categories: Writing Resources Tags: Writing Technique, Mystery Story, Carolyn Wells, Mystery Writing
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All the world loves a mystery; perhaps that is why Emerson declared the same to be true of a lover. Since time out of mind, a dear and open page has ever lacked the fascination of the veiled meaning, and when some touch of the strange, the weird, and even the gruesome, has been added to the mysterious, its challenge has been the more alluring.

Just wherein lies this universal charm, is itself a puzzle. Maybe it lies in our natures, born out of an uncharted past and tending toward an unknown future; maybe it is because of man's disposition to triumph over difficulties — sending him in quest of fabled treasures, on perilous hunts in unknown lands, and bidding him struggle with his last ounce of energy to attain goals hitherto unattained; or maybe it is the expression of his dual make-up — flesh and spirit — and when the mysterious is set before him he instinctively feels a call to match his discernment against the problem, seem it never so insoluble.

 

 

Table of Contents 

Page 

Introduction xii 

Chapter I — The Eternal Curious i 

1. The Inquisition into the Curious is Universal 2 

2. Early Riddles . 6 

J. The Passion for Solving Mysteries . . 8 

Chapter II — The Literature of Mystery 10 

1. The Rightful Place of the Mystery Story in Fiction 10 

2. The Mystery Story Considered as Art 15 
J. The Claims of Antagonists and Protagonists i5 

Chapter III — The History oe Mystery 20 

I. Ancient Mystery Tales ... 20 

Chapter IV — Ghost Stories . . 25 

1. A Working Classification . 26 

2. The Ghost Story . 27 
5. Famous Ghost Stories . 31 

4. The Humorous Ghost Story 34 
Chapter V — Riddle Stories . 37 

1. Some Notable Riddle Stories . 37 

2. The Nature of the Riddle Story and Its Types . 40 
Chapter VI — DeteCtive Stories . . . 43 

1. What Is a Detective Story? 43 

2. Rise of the Detective Story 44 

5. The Detective — Fictive and Real 47 

4. Fiction versus Fact . . 5° 

5. The Interest of the Detective Story . . 58 

6. A Summing Up 63 
Chapter VII — The Detective . . -65 

1. The Real Detective and His Work . . 65 

2. Fictive Detective Material . .  



VI TABLE or CONTENTS 

Page 

J. The Transcendent Detective 74 

4. Pioneer Detectives of Fiction ... 76 

5. Recent Detectives of Fiction . 79 

6. The Scientific Detective of Fiction . 81 

7. The New Psychology in Detective Stories 83 
 
8. Other Types . . . . 86 

Chapter VIII — Deduction 87 

1. Ratiocination in Early Detective Stories .... 87 

2. Deduction Used in Every-day Life . 90 
J. The Analytical Element in the Detective Story 92 

4. Poe's Detective — The Prototype 94 

5. The Detective in the Novel 96 

Chapter IX — Applied Principles ... loi 

1. The Detectives of Poe, Doyle, and Gaboriau loi 

2. Individuality of these Detectives . . 106 
J. The Real Sherlock Holmes 108 

Chapter X — The Rationale of Ratiocination . 113 

J. Sherlock Holmes' Method . . . 113 

2. Lecoq's Method .120 

3. Other Methods . 121 

4. Holmes' Method Evaluated 123 

5. The Inductive and the Deductive Methods . 125 

6. Two Striking Examples 126 

Chapter XI — Close Observation . 132 

1. The Search for Clues . 135 

2. The Bizarre in Crime . . 137 
J. The Value of the Trivial . 139 
4. The Tricks of Imitation 141 

Chapter XII — Other Detectives of Fiction . 144 

1. Some Original Traits . 144 

2. Two Unique Detectives . 147 
Chapter XIII — Portraits ... ... 153 

1. Some Early Detective Portraits 153 

2. Some More Modern Portraits 156 



TABLE or CONTENTS Vll 



J. Some Less Known Portraits . 

4. Idiosyncrasies of Fictional Detectives 

5. Favorite Phrases of Detectives 
Chapter XIV — Devious Devices . 

1. Snow and Rain 

2. Some Particularly Hackneyed Devices 172 

3. Devices Which Are Not Plausible . . 175 

Chapter XV — Footprints and Fingerprints . 180 

1. The Omnipresence of Footprints 180 

2. Other Miraculous Discoveries . . 183 

3. Remarkable Deductions from Footprints 186 

4. Fingerprints and Teeth-marks . 191 

Chapter XVI — More Devices . . 195 

1. Tabulated Clues 195 

2. Worn-out Devices 199 

3. The Use of Disguise 203 

4. Other "Properties" 205 

Chapter XVII — Fake Devices . . 208 

1. The "Trace" Fallacy . . . 208 

2. The Destruction of Evidence . 209 

3. False Hypotheses . .210 

4. Errors of Fact and of Inference . . 211 

5. The Use of Illustrative Plans . . . 216 

6. The Locked and Barred Room ... . . 217 

Chapter XVIII — Murder in General . 219 

1. Murder Considered in the Abstract .219 

2. Murder as a Fine Art ... . 221 

3. The Murder Theme . 227 

4. The Robbery Theme ... 228 

5. The Mysterious Disappearance . 231 

Chapter XIX — Persons in the Story 234 

1. The Victim . ... 234 

2. The Criminal . . 236 

3. Faulty Portrayal of the Criminal 237 



via TABLE OF CONTENTS 

Page 

4. The Secondary Detective . 238 

5. The Suspects ... . . 239 

6. The Heroine and the Element of Romance 241 

7. The Police ... . . 243 

8. The Supernumeraries . . 243 

Chapter XX — The Handling of the Crime . 245 

Chapter XXI — The Motive 251 

Chapter XXII — Evidence . 254 

1. The Coroner 254 

2. The Inquest . 255 
5. The Witnesses .... 256 

4. Presentation of the Evidence . . 258 

5. Circumstantial Evidence ... . 258 

6. Deductions from Evidence . 260 
y. Deductions from Clues . . . 261 
8. Evidence by Applied Psychology . 264 
p. Direct Observation 264 

10. Exactness of Detail . 270 

1 1 . Theories of Evidence ... 272 

Chapter XXIII — Structure 277 

1. Length , 277 

2. The Short Story and the Novel ... 277 
J. Singleness of Plot in the Detective Story . . 279 

4. The Question of Length . 280 

5. The Narrator in the Detective Story . 285 

6. The Setting .... . 288 

Chapter XXIV — Plots . 290 

1. The Plot is the Story . . 290 

2. Constructing the Plot . .291 
J. Maintaining Suspense . . . 294 

4. Planning the Story . 297 

5. The Question of Humor . . 300 

6. Some Unique Devices . . 301 



TABLE OF CONTENTS 





Page 


Chapter XXV — Further Advices 


306 


I. The Use of Coincidences 


306 


2. The Use of Melodrama 


308 


J. Dullness . . ... 


309 


4. Unique Plots and their Solubility 


310 


5. Women as Writers of Detective Stories . 


313 


Chapter XXVI — Final Advices . 


316 


I. General Qualities of the Detective Story 


317 


2. Correctness 


. 318 


J. Names 


. 319 


4. Titles 


. 320 



 
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