By Z.J. Czupor

The Mother of American Mystery: Anna Katharine Green

Every member of Mystery Writers of America knows well the father of the American detective story – Edgar Allan Poe, whose 1841 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. Her novel, The Leavenworth Case: A Lawyer’s Story, published 37 years later in 1878, is widely regarded as the first American detective novel.

Over a fifteen-year period, her novel sold over 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 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. 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 45 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.

This was the novel that first established the “whodunit” and the idea that “every one and nobody” is a suspect.

Green died in 1935 at the age of 88 in Buffalo, New York, where walking tours highlight authors with local connections. She’s included with Mark Twain, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Herman Melville, Taylor Caldwell and others.

Years later, Agatha Christie, 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.

And, that’s your Mystery Minute.

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