Crime literature: what it is, how it arises, characteristics and main authors


What is detective literature?

It is any type of narrative text in which the plot revolves around crimes or crimes that are usually starred by the detective who is in charge of the process to solve it. Although it is a type of literature, it is mainly known as a detective novel, since it is through this literary genre that it is often developed.

Thus, the detective novel, detective novel or detective literature, as it is also known, is built around an enigma that although it is unknown to the reader, it is also unknown to the detective, so that in the course of the story all the elements will appear and little by little the data will be discovered to solve the event.

What is detective literature

At present, the detective novel is one of the most popular formats in the world of literature, which is added not only to a large number of productions under this modality, but also a growing number of people interested in them and comprising different types of audiences, although in most cases, they are oriented to adult audiences.

How does the detective novel or literature arise?

The origin of this type of literature is found around the year 1840. However, it has been possible to trace texts that have a style oriented to what would later become the detective novel. One of the earliest examples is the Greek tragedy Oedipus Rex by Sophocles, as well as other beginnings, for example the Book of Daniel in the Old Testament.

Accordingly, it is one of the literary genres most associated with modernity and along the same lines as other types of literature such as fiction literature, which we have already discussed in another section. In particular, these styles arise as a response to a sociocultural demand in which the crimes that took place both in the nineteenth century and in the early twentieth century, had a detailed follow-up or evolution that allowed the resolution of the cases, thus giving rise to collections of volumes that included judicial processes and that were of great interest to the reader’s curiosity.

The consolidation of the detective novel is coined to Francois Gayot de Pitaval, a prominent lawyer of French origin, who would be in charge of publishing a series of volumes called Causes célebres e intéressantes that spread with great speed. Later, and in accordance with the style used in this type of texts, other formats would emerge, such as gothic literature or gothic novels, and horror literature, where the portrayal of events acquires a higher level of crudeness.

Development of detective literature or detective novels

In principle, this type of literature was classified in two main aspects, also currents of the genre. Among them we find the following:

English school

It is the first current that arises from the detective novel and focuses mainly on the intellectual resolution of a case. Thus, a clear description of the analysis in relation to moral and social factors is absent. In addition, it is usually set in the upper classes of society. One of the authors placed in this modality is Agatha Christie.

American School

Particularly in this division we find the crime novel, of which we have already spoken in depth in another section. This trend focuses on crime from the social and moral context, so that descriptions are developed about their own environment. They are works that usually take place in settings of the lower class of society and even deeply marginalized classes. Authors such as Raymond Chandler are representative of this aspect.

On the other hand, the Spanish school will also develop, which is specifically associated with a political genre with which the author makes social and cultural criticisms, and which at the same time becomes a space for the resistance of the political issue. Thus, it brings together aspects mainly from the American school in relation to the vision and introduction of the social dimension.

At present, a large part of crime novels are especially influenced by media such as television and cinema, emerging channels in countries such as the United States, in which the contents of crime literature take place.

Structure of crime literature

One of the most important elements of this type of texts is that they have a defined structure, which is why the course of the story usually takes the same paths to finally reach the solution of the case that is proposed from the initial stage.

Structure of crime literature

It is important to consider that the structure may have some other features, especially if we consider that the creation of a literary work is an artistic process in which the author imbues his own style. Thus, according to their own preferences, they may have styles in one part or another. Let’s see:


As a style belonging to the narrative genre, this type of text has in its initial stage, a presentation or a partial approach to the case to be solved. In this first stage, the reader can approach the details of the crime, thus, he/she can have information about how the case is discovered, how the detective or the person who solves it knows about the existence of the event, among others.


In this middle stage of the story, the development of the investigation is generated. At this point the detective has already found the starting point to begin the investigation process by taking a precise path that will allow him to find the solution. This process will be nurtured by the discovery of clues on which he will trace the direction.


And we come to the end of this text with the denouement of the story. At this point, the author allows the character in charge of solving the case to begin to reveal the crime or the culprit of the facts from the information obtained in the course of the story, as well as his skills to find the final solution.

Main characteristics of crime literature

Let us now review the most important characteristics of this type of literature and the most distinctive features that have consolidated the detective novel throughout history. Although each author imbues his work with his own style, associations and resources, it is possible to identify the elements that give meaning to this type of literature and facilitate its organization. Among them we find the following:

Statement of a case

The main feature that we can identify and that will allow us, later on, to call the work a detective novel, is the approach or the exposition of a case. At the beginning, it is a case that is not revealed in its entirety and is presented as a fact of significant complexity, however, in the course of the story will begin to collect clues.

Resolution of the case

In order to bring the whole text to life, authors usually end the story with the total resolution of the case that was raised from the beginning. Thus, the detective, who is usually the protagonist of the novel, is the one who will begin to put together the pieces that will give him the concrete answers to solve the case.

Possible aspects

In some cases, the laws and also the social order are expressed more powerfully, especially when it is a traditional aspect of the detective novel. However, it is also known as the black side, which, in turn, with a weakening of ethical values, presents characters who commit crimes and may even hold the detective responsible for them.

Profile of the detective

Often the main figure of the text can be the detective, who can also be a policeman, a journalist or a specialized investigator. In this case, the profile of this character is characterized by aspects such as intelligence, observation, passion for science, in some cases, and for being a cultured person.

Cases in the novel

Cases in the novel

Among the most frequent cases we find in this type of literature are murders, kidnappings, robberies, among others that, due to their characteristics, it is possible to follow them gradually to finally reach their resolution.

Recurring characters

Among the characters that are usually present in this type of texts, we find, as we have mentioned, the detective, who can fulfill other roles and who is characterized by his cunning, intelligence and intuition. Also present is the murderer or culprit of the crime who represents the evil whose actions are caused by past grudges, phobias, disorders, etc.

And on the other hand we find the secondary characters who are usually represented by witnesses of the events or the victims of the events themselves. These characters have the power to collaborate with the resolution of the case, however, and in some cases, they can also hinder the process. This is one of the aspects that can complicate the resolution of the crimes. Finally, although not as a character, there is the environment in which it develops. While it can be set in either a rural or an urban environment, it is often the latter that is most relevant to the story.

Type of narrator

Although the author may vary in his or her choice of narrator, in most cases the detective novel is usually narrated in the first person, although there are also authors who choose the third person narration option. Often the narrator is a witness, whose point of view is taken.

Most recognized authors of crime literature

We end our journey through the detective novel or detective novel with a series of authors who have marked the beginnings and have also developed in depth this type of literature at different times of evolution of the artistic world in which it arises. Thus, we can find authors such as: Agatha Christie, Wilkie Collins, Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Edgar Allan Poe, Georges Simenon, Patricia Higsmith, Andrea Camilleri, Lorenzo Silva, Donna Leon, Alicia Giménez, Fred Vargas, Camila Lackberg, Dorothy L. Sayers, Leonardo Padura, Edgar Allan Poe, Georges Simenon, Dorothy L. Sayers, Leonardo Padura, Fred Vargas, Camila Lackberg, Dorothy L. Lackberg. Sayers, Leonardo Padura, Dolores Redondo, Chester Hilmes, Julian Symons, Maj Sjowall, Sue Graffon, Josephine Tey, Anne Perry, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, S.Eliot, James Ellroy, among others.

In addition to this, there are a number of representative works that we cannot leave out and that will be of great importance for their own growth. Thus, we find the following: Oedipus Rex by Sophocles, The Crimes of the Rue Morgue, The Mystery of Marie Rogêt, The Purloined Letter and The Golden Beetle written by Edgar Allan Poe, The Moonstone, The Eternal Dream, Goodbye, Doll and The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler, Red Harvest, The Maltese Falcon and The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett, Study in Scarlet, The Sign of the Four, The Hound of the Baskervilles, novels by Arthur Connan Doyle, The Mysterious Case of Styles, Death in Mesopotamia, Death on the Nile and Death Rendezvous by Agatha Christie.

And so we come to the end of one of the most booming types of literature, especially in recent years, although it is not possible to ignore the important impact it has had on the literary world and the great interest it has aroused over the years to generations and generations. If you want to know more about the literary world on movements, avant-garde, literary genres, authors and more, do not forget to visit our section dedicated to this field of art.