No customer reviews. Share your thoughts with other customers. Write a customer review. Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon. Verified Purchase. Quite a few mystery novels by Carolyn Wells are currently available in the Kindle Store, and while she is not up there with the greats of that genre, her mysteries are still very entertaining; I have certainly enjoyed all those I have thus far read. This book, however, is nonfiction.
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It begins with a relatively disjointed discussion of topics related to human curiosity, the history of the mystery story in myth and legend, mystery stories as literature, and elements of mystery in the works of early non-mystery writers. Wells then treats ghost stories and riddle stories at some length. These preliminary chapters are interesting and a foundational necessity, but she doesn't hit her stride until she finally arrives at the true detective story and Edgar Allan Poe.
To me, those earlier chapters read as if the author felt obligated to include them, but really just wanted to get past them to get to "the good stuff. Nevertheless, Carolyn Wells finally gets to Poe and subsequently to authors of the "modern" era the early 's, when this book was written.
She does this in a series of chapters each exploring myriad mystery-related topics some lightly, others in detail, and many overlaping and repetitive. Reeve, Anna Katharine Green and other noted mystery writers, often discussing plot elements and providing lengthy excerpts from their writing. Since many, if not most, of the works to which she refers are now in the public domain, this becomes a very handy list of titles for lovers of such now old-fashioned mysteries to seek to add to their Kindles.
Comprehensive and inexpensive collections can be inexpensively purchased in the Kindle Store for many of these authors, and a great many of their individual novels are available as public domain freebies. But be aware that she often reveals plot outcomes, culprits, and other such spoilers in her discussions of given topics.
You may wish to be on the lookout for such revelations in order to skip them so as not to ruin your future reading pleasure of those works. Indeed, many of the things she strongly says should NOT be done when writing a mystery, have since been done quite successfully. To her credit, however, she recognizes exceptions even in her own day which were deliberately done for dramatic effect by skilled writers, but she still warns against their general use.
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Ironically, her own faithful adherence to the advice and standards she provides in this book resulted in her works being popularly-received and still enjoyable but artistically restrained and less than stellar; the "sameness" one perceives in reading them is largely due to the very "formula" she followed and here recommends to others. Wells presents her views relative to the collective tastes and sensibilities of the reading audience of her day, but obviously much has changed since then. It is for this reason the book, overall, exudes a certain quaintness, not to mention an upperclass, cultural bias.
But even though a document strongly reflective of its time, it is not without value to today's budding writers of mysteries so long as Wells' precepts are regarded as suggestions, some better than others, some appropriate and some not, and not a few worthwhile more in the breach than in the observance. In other words, like all advice, it is to be taken cautiously and with a grain of salt. In conclusion, as a practical manual for how to write today's modern mysteries both novels and short stories , this book is largely outdated though, as previously noted, not totally without merit to would-be, but critically discerning, mystery-writers.
But while no longer of especial value as a "how-to" book, it is definitely worth reading as an introduction to early mystery writers, their techniques and their works. On that basis I can heartily recommend it. This was written at a time when writers were thorough, as opposed to many of the current books on writing slammed out to make a buck off the backs of aspiring fictioneers.
True you need a bit of a vocabulary to read it, but the research into the mystery makes it worth the read. Among other things, the book discusses three main categories of mystery: 1. Ghost stories; 2. Riddles which must be solved without cheating; and 3. Detective stories, which are solved by a process of inquiry and deduction. This book is definitely worth reading, and, the knowledge offered is not obselete at all. Just make sure you have a note pad handy to record the nitty gritty found in each chapter. I use OneNote. Hampton Bush, author of Brothers of the Light, a science-fiction thriller-love story.
Ratiocination in Early Detective Stories 2. Deduction Used in Every-day Life 3. The Analytical Element in the Detective Story 4.
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Poe's Detective—The Prototype 5. The Detectives of Poe, Doyle, and Gaboriau 2. Individuality of these Detectives 3. Sherlock Holmes' Method 2. Lecoq's Method 3. Other Methods 4. Holmes' Method Evaluated 5. The Inductive and the Deductive Methods 6. The Search for Clues 2. The Bizarre in Crime 3. The Value of the Trivial 4. Some Original Traits 2. Some Early Detective Portraits 2. Some More Modern Portraits 3. Some Less Known Portraits 4. Idiosyncrasies of Fictional Detectives 5. Snow and Rain 2. Some Particularly Hackneyed Devices 3.
The Omnipresence of Footprints 2. Other Miraculous Discoveries 3. Remarkable Deductions from Footprints 4. Tabulated Clues 2.
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Worn-out Devices 3. The Use of Disguise 4. The "Trace" Fallacy 2. The Destruction of Evidence 3. False Hypotheses 4. Errors of Fact and of Inference 5. The Use of Illustrative Plans 6. Murder Considered in the Abstract 2.
Murder as a Fine Art 3. The Murder Theme 4. The Robbery Theme 5. The Victim 2. The Criminal 3. Faulty Portrayal of the Criminal 4. The Secondary Detective 5. The Suspects 6. The Heroine and the Element of Romance 7. The Police 8.
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The Coroner 2. The Inquest 3.
The Witnesses 4. Presentation of the Evidence 5. Circumstantial Evidence 6. Deductions from Evidence 7. Deductions from Clues 8.
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Evidence by Applied Psychology 9. Direct Observation Exactness of Detail Length 2. The Short-Story and the Novel 3. Singleness of Plot in the Detective Story 4. The Question of Length 5.