The Evolution of Crime Fiction

The Evolution of Crime Fiction

From Sherlock Holmes to Jack Reacher

A lot has changed in the last 150 years of mystery and suspense writing. The choices for readers and writers have evolved in so many different directions for style, stories, and characters since the early adventures of Sherlock Holmes to the crime thrillers of today.

This was the topic of a recent panel discussion at the Atwater Library by four Montreal crime writers who are all active members of Crime Writers of Canada ( Each writer described how their own crime fiction fits in evolution of the mystery/suspense novel: A.J. Fotheringham (, Russell Fralich  (, Ann Lambert  (, and myself, Delvin R. Chatterson (

The early crime/mystery/suspense novel is best represented by the traditional mysteries of Arthur Conan Doyle with Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie with Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Then came the pulp fiction of the 1950s and 60s with its hardboiled detectives and private eyes of Mickey Spillane and Raymond Chandler and the spies and action heroes saving the world from destruction in the novels of Ian Fleming and Frederick Forsyth. Today we have the current themes of social justice, abuse of power and privilege, immorality and human suffering embedded in crime stories of action-adventure, murder mysteries, psychological thrillers, domestic suspense, historical fiction, true crime exposés, and the current version of cozy mysteries. Some crime fiction novels are muti-layered with detailed backgrounds and descriptions of history and locations that add to the interest for some readers. Other readers prefer the non-stop action-thrillers of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels without any digression into philosophy or social commentary.

Have you made your choices? We learned from the discussion that both readers and writers make their decisions based on what they like to read or write, but their preferences too evolve over time. Check out these four authors to see if they might be an interesting addition to your reading list and let us know what you find.

Enjoy your reading and writing!


Del Chatterson

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