by | Jul 28, 2020 | Mystery Minute | 5 comments

Rogue Readers, you are in for a real treat! Starting this Tuesday, ZJ Czupor Goes Rogue. He will be bringing us one of his famous Mystery Minutes on Tuesday every 5 weeks. Sometimes funny, ALWAYS interesting, these short write ups give us a view into the history of crime novels and the lives of crime writers. So, with no further ado…

ZJ Czupor is an award-winning writer. His current novel, Cut Right Through Me, is seeking representation. He is vice president of the Rocky Mountain Chapter of Mystery Writers of America and writes a monthly column, “The Mystery Minute.” He also co-chairs Rocky Mountain Fiction Writer’s annual literary competition. In 1990, he and his wife co-founded The InterPro Group, one of Denver’s leading marketing and public relations firms. They are proud to be owned by two beautiful, and way too smart, rescue collies.

by ZJ Czupor

The Mother of the American Detective Story: Anna Katharine Green

Every serious mystery writer knows full well who holds the title of the “father of the American detective story.” That title belongs to Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849), whose 1841 short story, Murders in the Rue Morgue, introduced C. Auguste Dupin, the detective hero.

But little known is the identity of the “mother of the American detective story.” According to Michael Mallory, writing in Mystery Scene magazine, (Spring, 2018), it was Anna Katharine Green (1846-1935). Her first novel, The Leavenworth Case: A Lawyer’s Story, published thirty-seven years later in 1878, is widely regarded as the first American detective novel.

Over a fifteen-year period, her novel sold more than three-quarters of a million copies. She distinguished herself by writing well plotted, legally accurate stories. Her influence and reputation were so great that Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930), the creator of Sherlock Holmes, sought her out during his visit to the U.S. in 1894.

She was college-educated—rare at that time—and started a career as a poet and often corresponded with Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882). Then when her poetry failed to catch on, she turned to writing novels. She worked on her first novel for six years. It was published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons. She later married, raised a family, and wrote three dozen more novels over the next forty-five years.

In fact, her novel’s insight into legal matters was used in Yale University law classes as “an example of the perils of trusting circumstantial evidence.” Interestingly, her novel sparked a debate in the Pennsylvania State Senate over whether the book could really have been written by a woman.

The Leavenworth Case was the novel that first established the “whodunit” and the idea that “everyone and nobody” is a suspect.

Green’s innovative plots thrilled readers with dead bodies in libraries, newspaper clippings as clues, the coroner’s inquest, and expert witnesses. She succeeded in a genre dominated by male writers. But she disapproved of many of her feminist contemporaries and she opposed women’s suffrage.

Green died in 1935 at the age of 88 in Buffalo, New York. If you visit, you can take a walking tour which highlights authors with local connections. She’s included with Mark Twain, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Herman Melville, Taylor Caldwell, and others.

Years later, Agatha Christie (1890-1976), the best-selling author of all time (outsold only by the Bible and Shakespeare), revealed that it was Green who influenced her to begin writing mysteries. 

Thank you, ZJ Czupor! Readers, have you read any stories by Anna Katherine Green?
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  1. Chris Goff

    So glad you're blogging with us, ZJ. I know everyone is going to love this Mystery Minute column!

  2. Rogue Women Writers

    What a great story about an amazing woman — I had not known this history and was quite intrigued with her accomplishments, stories and how her work has been used even in the classroom. Thanks for a terrific post!….Karna Bodman

  3. Lisa Black

    Not yet, but I’ll have to look them up now! That’s amazing how her novel was used in Yale law classes…kind of like Allan Drury’s ‘Advise and Consent’ used in political science classes.

  4. Robin Burcell

    I have not. But I intend to rectify that. Thank you so much for bringing this to our attention! A shame she isn't more well known.

  5. Gayle Lynds

    This is so exciting! I love blogs like this. Thanks for Mystery Minute, ZJ!