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Inverted detective story

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

An inverted detective story, also known as a "howcatchem", is a murder mystery fiction structure in which the commission of the crime is shown or described at the beginning,[1][2] usually including the identity of the perpetrator.[3] The story then describes the detective's attempt to solve the mystery.[2] There may also be subsidiary puzzles, such as why the crime was committed, and they are explained or resolved during the story. This format is the opposite of the more typical "whodunit", where all of the details of the perpetrator of the crime are not revealed until the story's climax.

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Whether you're snowed in or simply spending a quiet night by the fireplace winter is a great time to settle in and read a good book here are 7 wonderful winter-themed stories that are sure to keep you entertained through many a cold snowy night WINTER'S TALE by Mark Helprin, during a ruthless winter storm on Manhattan's upper west side Peter Lake an ambitious young mechanic breaks into a large mansion only to discover that the house is not empty the young daughter of the family is home thus begins a love affair that is sure to warm your heart WINTER'S TALE was adapted into a film in 2014 starring Colin Farrell, Russell Crowe, and Jennifer Connelly LITTLE WOMEN by Lousia May Alcott, LITTLE WOMEN follows the lives of four girls growing up in poverty during the Civil War the story begins with Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy discussing how dreadful it is to be poor especially around the holidays originally published in 1868 LITTLE WOMEN has been re-interpreted through films, plays, audio dramas, and even a YouTube web series TINKERS by Paul Harding, through heartbreakingly beautiful prose narrator George Washington Crosby lies on his death bed and recalls his life from boyhood to the present day readers will find themselves transported to the backwoods of Maine in the frigid New England winters gone by as George remembers his father a traveling tinker TINKERS won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for fiction along with several other literary accolades THE SECRET HISTORY by Donna Tartt, an inverted detective story THE SECRET HISTORY is as chilling as the Vermont mountain air in which it is set the story revolves around a group of students at a small elite college who are studying ancient Greek literature when a murder is committed within their exclusive circle readers know who is murdered and how and every page brings you a step closer to discovering why 2 A.M. AT THE CAT'S PAJAMAS by Marie-Helene Bertino, on a snowy Christmas Eve in Philadelphia Madeleine Altimari, a 9-year-old mourning the loss of her mother wants nothing more than to be a jazz singer that's when she happens upon a floundering jazz club The Cat's Pajamas and is determined to make her live debut, Bertino was inspired to write THE CAT'S PAJAMAS after an evening at an open-mic jazz night in Philadelphia her goal was to write a story that truly emulated the night and it took her 12 years to do it STONE MATTRESS by Margaret Atwood, this collection of 9 wintry short stories features the supernatural, mysticism, and even a fairy tale from the very startling surprise found inside a storage unit in the freeze-dried bridegroom to the revenge-themed title piece STONE MATTRESS which takes place in the Arctic these intriguing stories feature Atwood's iconic version of reality A CHRISTMAS CAROL by Charles Dickens, probably the most famoust Christmas story of all time this novella follows Ebenezer Scrooge a selfish old miser who is visited on Christmas Eve by 3 ghosts hoping to show him the error of his ways this holiday classic has been interpreted in myriad ways and adapted countless times including a version that features The Muppets Want to know more about how Writer's Relief and Self-Publishing Relief can help you with great writing tips and self-publishing advice? Visit our website by clicking the link in the description below!



R. Austin Freeman claimed to have created the inverted detective story in his 1912 collection of short stories The Singing Bone.

Some years ago I devised, as an experiment, an inverted detective story in two parts. The first part was a minute and detailed description of a crime, setting forth the antecedents, motives, and all attendant circumstances. The reader had seen the crime committed, knew all about the criminal, and was in possession of all the facts. It would have seemed that there was nothing left to tell. But I calculated that the reader would be so occupied with the crime that he would overlook the evidence. And so it turned out. The second part, which described the investigation of the crime, had to most readers the effect of new matter.[2][4][5][6]


One early and prominent example of this subgenre is Malice Aforethought, written in 1931 by Anthony Berkeley Cox writing as Francis Iles. Freeman Wills Crofts's The 12:30 from Croydon is another important instance.

The 1952 BBC television play Dial M for Murder by Frederick Knott (later adapted for the stage and then adapted again in 1954 as a theatrical film by Alfred Hitchcock) is another example. Tony Wendice outlines his plans to murder his wife Margot in the opening scenes, leaving the viewer with no questions about perpetrator or motive, only with how the situation will be resolved. In Alfred Bester's 1953 novel, The Demolished Man, the reader learns in the first chapter that Ben Reich plans to murder a man; the rest of the novel is concerned with whether he will get away with it.

The short stories written by Roy Vickers about the Department of Dead Ends are nearly all of the inverted type. They deal with the eccentric methods used by Inspector Rason, a detective in a fictional division of Scotland Yard assigned to investigate cold cases, to solve crimes where more conventional methods have failed.

Several of the Lord Peter Wimsey novels by Dorothy L. Sayers, such as Unnatural Death and Strong Poison, come near to inclusion in this category. In both books, there is from the start only one real suspect, whose guilt is more or less taken for granted by the middle of the book and who indeed turns out to be the murderer. In both books—as in some other Sayers detective novels, including her last, Busman's Honeymoon, the mystery to be solved is mainly, "why did this person have any motive to commit this murder" and "how did he or she do it" (which makes this format more similar to the majority of police investigations). Also, the short story, "The Abominable History of the Man with Copper Fingers", had the villain not only discovered, but dead at the beginning. Lord Peter explained his investigation in detail, complete to the villain's stumbling into a vat of cyanide-and-copper-sulphate electroplating solution.

The term "howcatchem" was coined much later, by American magazine TV Guide in the 1970s, after the United States television series Columbo popularized the format.[5]

The 1989 theatrical play Over My Dead Body, by Michael Sutton and Anthony Fingleton, depicts three elderly detective story writers committing a real-life locked room murder in Rube Goldbergian fashion. The audience is in on it every step of the way. In a variation of the typical inverted form, in this case the miscreants want to be caught and made to pay their debt to society.

In the 1990s, some episodes of Diagnosis: Murder were presented in the howcatchem format, usually when featuring a "big name" (or at least recognizable) guest star. TV shows Monk, Criminal Minds, and Law & Order: Criminal Intent have frequently featured episodes structured as howcatchems, in which the viewer typically witnesses the killer commit the crime (during which the killer's identity is revealed to the audience), and then watches as the detectives try to solve it. (In at least one Monk episode, they had to prove that a crime has been committed). The shows have also used the whodunit format at times. The British television crime series Luther also made regular use of the inverted detective story structure.[2]

In the manga Death Note, Light Yagami, Misa Amane, and Teru Mikami are villain protagonists, known to be killers from the start. The series chronicles L, Mello, and Near as they gradually uncover the truth.

See also


  1. ^ Inverted Detective Story - Pearson's Magazine
  2. ^ a b c d Orlebar, Jeremy (2013). The Television Handbook. Routledge. p. 216. ISBN 9781136655555. Retrieved 30 December 2015.
  3. ^ Seigneuret, Jean-Charles (1988). Dictionary of Literary Themes and Motifs. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 381. ISBN 9780313263965. Retrieved 30 December 2015.
  4. ^ This is a quote from an essay by Freeman entitled "The Art of the Detective Story Archived 2007-07-07 at the Wayback Machine", which appeared e.g. in Dr. Thorndyke's Crime File (1941).
  5. ^ a b Shead, Jackie (2015). Margaret Atwood: Crime Fiction Writer: The Reworking of a Popular Genre. Ashgate Publishing. p. 7. ISBN 9781472450630.
  6. ^ Queen, Ellery (1951). Queen's Quorum: A History of the Detective-crime Short Story as Revealed in the 106 Most Important Books Published in this Field Since 1845. Biblo & Tannen Publishers. pp. 62–63. ISBN 9780819602299.
This page was last edited on 24 March 2018, at 21:59
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