One of the most popular components of a private library is the mystery genre, which comprises a vast array of sub-genres such as detective fiction. The genesis of the detective fiction sub-genre may be traced to a short story penned by Edgar Allan Poe in 1841 titled The Murders in the Rue Morgue. All the elements of what we today recognize as the essential characteristics of the sub-genre are found in this short story: a brutal murder; baffled police; an independent investigator that solves the case through superior intelligence, humbling the police in the process.
This formula was put to use in countless hack novels and short stories over the succeeding decades, especially in cheap mass entertainment such as dime novels and yellowbacks. Only occasionally did the sub-genre receive the attention of writers as gifted as Poe. One thinks of Wilkie Collins' The Woman in White (1852) ) or, perhaps, of Charles Dickens' The Mystery of Edwin Drood (1870):
This all changed with the debut of Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes in A Study In Scarlet. "The world's greatest detective" was followed a mere two decades later by what fans now term The Golden Age of Detective Fiction, marked by the rise of authors like Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers and others.
But this same period also saw the rise of a much darker strain of detective fiction: a sub-genre within the sub-genre, if you will. Instead of focusing on plot, setting and ingenuity to solve baffling cases, this sub-genre instead focused on brute force and an uncanny ability to survive against all odds. Its first-person narrator precluded the deductive surprises associated with traditional detective fiction. Thus it was that the very year that the Golden Age of Detective Fiction may properly be said to begin (with the publication of Agatha Christie's The Mysterious Affair at Styles in 1920), so too began the rise of hard-boiled detective fiction. The incubator was one of the most important pulp fiction magazines of all time. Appropriately enough, it was called The Black Mask....