First ever detective novel is republished
22nd February 2012
Charles Warren Adams' The Notting Hill Mystery, widely regarded as the first ever true detective novel, is finally being republished, 150 years after it was written.
Although some literary historians have argued that Wilkie Collins' classic 1868 tale The Moonstone or Emile Gaboriau's first Monsieur Lecoq adventure L'Affaire Lerouge can claim the title of first detective novel, The Notting Hill Mystery predates both of these, being serialised between 1862 and 1863 in the magazine Once a Week.
It features many hallmarks of classic crime fiction and devices that would not be fully employed until Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes novels were published, with an epistolary style, plot twists and a keen-eyed protagonist all becoming commonplace in future detective stories.
The plot follows the attempts of insurance investigator Ralph Henderson to bring the sinister Baron 'R___' to justice for murdering his wife in order to obtain a significant payout.
His approach involves compiling diary entries, letters, crime reports, witness interviews, maps and forensic evidence to bring the villain to justice.
The British Library, which is publishing the book, explained that these innovative techniques 'would not become common features of detective fiction until the 1920s', while the outlandish plot - featuring an evil mesmerist, gypsy kidnappers, slow-poisoners and three murders - sounds more like The Da Vinci Code than a mid-19th century tale.
Commissioning editor Lara Speicher commented: 'At the beginning of the book you know what the crime is, then he gradually leads you through all the events leading up to the crime and only at the end reveals how it happened.
'He keeps you going through the book. Modern fans of crime fiction would definitely enjoy it.'
The new version of the book was compiled using photographs of the first edition, including original illustrations by George du Maurier, with the author credited as Charles Warren Adams, rather than the pseudonym he used in the 1860s, Charles Felix.