What inspires a mystery writer?
We asked 100 published writers: Did a mystery set you on your path to being a writer? Is there a classic mystery that remains important to you today? This book, a follow-up to our two previous collections of essays, 100 Favorite Mysteries of the Century (2000) and They Died in Vain: Overlooked, Underappreciated and Forgotten Mystery Novels (2002), is the result.
The writers we contacted represent the entire spectrum of the mystery genre, from cozy to hardboiled, from acclaimed veterans to some of the fields most intriguing newcomers. Young or old, each of these writers reminds us of a basic truism: great writers are great readers first. Their essays reveal the extent to which the discovery of these seminal texts was not just literary inspiration but a life-altering event.
We found it especially endearing to see how often contributors referred not just to a books text but to its literal form as well: a particular copy of a particular edition. We are reminded that the power of the printed word derives in part from the fact that it is printed and bound, fixed in both time and place.
In these essays, were also reminded of the power of the genre itself. For many writers, their classics represent more than just a bar against which to measure their own work, they inspired a new way to look at the landscape of literature.
These writers represent several generations of mystery lovers, and the classics they cite represent every era of the mystery story, from the 1840s to the 1990s. Weve arranged these essays in the order of the publication of the classics they cover, from Edgar Allan Poes The Cask of the Amontillado to Dennis Lehanes Gone, Baby, Gone. This chronological arrangement offers something of a history of the genre, and reveals that the virtues of early crime stories are not necessarily the same as what we admire in more recent work.
Its striking how many of the classics covered are newer. Fifty essays cover books published in 1952 and earlier. Fifty essays cover books published since 1954. Can a book thats just 25 years old be considered a classic? Just 10 years old? Our position is simple: just because a book was published recently doesnt mean it didnt influence someone. The power of a story doesnt derive from its age; its in the story itself, and its reader.
If genre truly is a conversation among texts, as science fiction editor David Hartwell has written, we hope that Mystery Muses will become part of the conversation. These essays are not just about 100 beloved books. They are just as much about 100 of the genres finest current practitioners, writers who respect the past and who continue to be inspired by classics as they define the future of the mystery story.
-- Jim Huang & Austin Lugar