First and foremost, Doyle's contribution to the mystery genre was in the presentation of the hero. Prior to Holmes' appearance in the written format, Poe's detective C. Auguste Dupin was the name most associated with mysteries. While Dupin may have the distinction of being the first detective, and his influence on not only Holmes but other investigators to come, he is nevertheless an incredibly dull character, seldom venturing from his armchair to solve a case. What's more, Dupin, and his unnamed associate-cum-narrator, are both verbose and bordering on the pedantic, which in part mirrors Poe's narrative style, but even to the hardened mystery enthusiast, C. Auguste Dupin does not hold a candle to Sherlock Holmes. Holmes is a compelling character, not only in his eccentricities, but the way he solves his crimes. Holmes balances the logical train of observation and deduction with a healthy dose of action - Holmes' knowledge of martial arts would have been completely alien in the mystery genre created by Edgar Allan Poe. Interestingly, Doyle was also the first to present the magnifying glass as a instrument of detection. The illustration seen above, drawn by D.H. Friston for Beeton's Christmas Annual (which was the first published illustration of the detective) depicts Holmes using the tool of the detective's trade.
|The "how-catch-'em" - The Mazarin Stone|
As the canon progressed the influence on later generations of mysteries became more evident. The last Sherlock Holmes novel The Valley of Fear would serve as one of the first hardboiled detective mysteries (click here to read my evaluation of that novel) and three years later His Last Bow: An Epilogue of Sherlock Holmes would serve as an early spy story (a rather tepid spy story, but its includes a bit of espionage all the same). Both of these short stories feature a darker edge, particularly The Valley of Fear which features a violent back-story and would serve as a segue to the equally dark final set of short stories The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes. The first story in this last collection is The Illustrious Client, surely the most disturbing of all the original short stories. Curiously The Illustrious Client doesn't feature much of a mystery at all and it can be argued that it served as something of a template for the "how-catch-'em" school of mysteries which would come later. A few stories later, this "how-catch-'em" style would return in The Mazarin Stone, which though reviled by many Sherlockians, follows the conventions of that latter genre as Holmes knows the identity of the crime's perpetrators but cannot point the finger of suspicion directly at them.
|Holmes Cracks the Code of The Dancing Men|
The revolution of the mystery genre is surely attributed to Arthur Conan Doyle. His works more than any other helped to establish the detective as a figure in literature and following the publication of the original Holmes adventures, a number of other authors tried their hand at writing mysteries, many of their creations being dubbed The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes. Holmes' influence is felt throughout the history of detective fiction and one wonders if writers such as Agatha Christie, Ellery Queen or Dorthy L. Sayers could have flourished so greatly without the shadow of Sherlock Holmes standing in the wings.
Are there any influential pieces which I neglected? Feel free to leave a comment below.