Throwback Thursday: The Evolution of Mystery

December 12, 2013


In the late 1940s and early 1950s, the mystery genre was the dominant literary genre. The “whodunit” motif found in stories by authors such as Dorothy Sayers, Freeman Wills Crofts, and Agatha Christie gripped and excited readers, creating suspense that engaged their audience. However, over time a drastic shift in the composition of mystery novels has occurred.

In the University of Toronto Quarterly article, “Elementary, My Dear Watson” by Graham McInnes, the author shares that mystery in the 40s and 50s demanded that “terror is illumined by the knowledge of some horrible threat which is portrayed through cynical adult thought, morals and emotions, and no confusion about standardized right and wrong.”

Mystery maintains its popularity today, but exposure to violent realities renders this suspense-inducing model ineffective. Today, the division between right and wrong is blurred and the morality of characters is often called into question. McInnes claims that mystery novels “represent, above all, the violence and confused moral values which are the image of our time.”

Do you think this holds true today? What does McInnes claim say about society in the 21st century?  Tweet us your opinion @utpjournals.

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