No trivia fans, the first detective novel wasn’t by Edgar Allen Poe, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, or Emile Gaboriau.
The Notting Hill Mystery by Charles Felix, [AKA Charles Warren Adams] is believed by The British Library to be the first detective novel ever published,
and it is back in print for the first time in a century-and-a-half. The story features, poisoning, hypnotism, kidnapping and a series of crimes, “in their nature and execution too horrible to contemplate”
It has been suggested that Wilkie Collins’s novel The Moonstone, published in 1868, and Emile Gaboriau’s first Monsieur Lecoq novel L’Affaire Lerouge, released in 1866, were the first detective stories, but the British Library says: The Notting Hill Mystery can truly claim to be the first modern detective novel.
First serialized between 1862 and 1863 in the magazine Once a Week, the novel was published in its entirety in 1863 but has been out of print since the turn of the century. The plot features insurance investigator Ralph Henderson, and his struggle to bring wife killing fraudster Baron R___ to justice.
The book uses letters, diary entries, crime reports, witness interviews, maps and forensic evidence—techniques that would not become common features of detective fiction until the 1920’s. The investigation uncovers a heady collection of villainy, including an evil hypnotist, gypsy-kidnappers, poisoners and murder most foul.
The plot has been described as strikingly modern, ingenious and utterly mad. The British Library first made the novel available via print-on-demand last March, as part of a collection of 19th century novels. While most sold just two to three copies apiece, The Notting Hill Mystery took off following a glowing review in the New York Times. The Notting Hill Mystery is now available as a trade paperback.
The British Library’s new edition of The Notting Hill Mystery contains photographs of the original 1863 edition, which featured illustrations by George du Maurier, grandfather of writer and playwright Daphne.