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‘An intriguing anthology’ – Mail on Sunday

‘These 15 sanguinary spine-tinglers… deliver delicious chills’ – Christopher Hirst, Independent

‘A book which will delight fans of crime fiction’ – Verbal Magazine

‘It’s good to see that Mr Rennison has also selected some rarer pieces – and rarer detectives, such as November Joe, Sebastian Zambra, Cecil Thorold and Lois Cayley’ – Roger Johnson, The District Messenger (Newsletter of the Sherlock Holmes Society of London)

‘A gloriously Gothic collection of heroes fighting against maidens with bone-white skin, glittering eyes and bloodthirsty intentions’ – Lizzie Hayes, Promoting Crime Fiction

‘Nick Rennison’s The Rivals of Dracula shows that many Victorian and Edwardian novelists tried their hand at this staple of Gothic horror’ – Andrew Taylor, Spectator

‘The Rivals of Dracula is a fantastic collection of classic tales to chill the blood and tingle the spine. Grab a copy and curl up somewhere cosy for a night in’ – Citizen Homme Magazine


We all have a picture in our minds of the archetypal detective of American fiction. The hardboiled, wisecracking private eye, walking a city’s mean streets. Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade, Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe or one of the hundreds, probably thousands, of other gumshoes who have trodden in their footsteps. But that style of detective only came into being in the late 1920s and early 1930s, most influentially in Hammett’s novels and in the pages of the legendary magazine Black Mask. American crime fiction has a much longer history.

It really begins with Edgar Allan Poe. (The history of most genre fiction in the USA really begins with Edgar Allan Poe.) Claims for precedence have been made on behalf of earlier works such as Charles Brockden Brown’s 1799 novel Edgar Huntly and some of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s shorter fiction. However, it was Poe who established many of the tropes of crime fiction which are still being used by writers today. In three short stories published in the 1840s – ‘The Murders in the Rue Morgue’, ‘The Mystery of Marie Rogêt’ and ‘The Purloined Letter’ – he created the templates for much of what was to come. The locked-room mystery; the story based on a true crime; the clues, sometimes hidden in plain sight, which point towards a satisfying explanation of what initially seems inexplicable; the bumbling police outshone by the brilliant amateur. All of these derive ultimately from what Poe himself called his ‘tales of ratiocination’. His character C Auguste Dupin is the archetype of the detective hero with superior powers of deduction and his influence on later creations, most notably Sherlock Holmes, is clear.

Yet Poe’s impact was not markedly felt in his own country in the decades immediately following his death in 1849. There are stories and novels from the 1850s and 1860s which can be classed retrospectively as crime fiction. The Dead Letter of 1866 by Seeley Regester (the pseudonym of the woman writer Metta Victoria Fuller Victor), for instance, is the story of the narrator’s quest to track down a murderer. Another female author, Harriet Spofford, created what was arguably one of the first ‘series’ detectives in history in Mr Furbush who appeared in several stories published in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine. However, the genre Poe had pioneered did not gain much more than a toehold in the traditional publishing houses and magazines of the American literary world.

It was in the more downmarket arena of the so-called ‘dime novel’ that the figure of the detective finally emerged from the wings and, often enough, took centre stage. The equivalent of the British ‘penny dreadful’, the dime novel began to flourish in the 1860s. The first example of the genre is usually said to be Malaeska, the Indian Wife of the Great Hunter, written by a prolific author and editor, Ann S Stephens, and published by the firm of Beadle & Adams in 1860. Thousands of titles followed in the last decades of the nineteenth century and the opening ones of the twentieth. Several factors fuelled this explosion in cheap genre fiction. Literacy levels began to increase around the time of the American Civil War and continued to do so in the years between 1870 and 1900. At the same time, new printing technologies meant that publishers could issue more books at cheaper prices.

As the title of Ann Stephens’s original dime novel indicates, tales of Native Americans and what was increasingly becoming known as the ‘Wild West’ were popular. The army scout and bison hunter William Cody was transformed into the national hero ‘Buffalo Bill’ by the adventures attributed to him in stories by writers such as Ned Buntline and Prentiss Ingraham. Other genres thrived as well. One of these was the detective novel. Characters like ‘Old Sleuth’, ‘Lady Kate, the Dashing Female Detective’, ‘Sam Strong the Cowboy Detective’ and ‘Old King Brady’ battled bad guys in stories that made up in lively action for what they lacked in literary sophistication. However, the major detective to emerge from the dime novel was Nick Carter.

After his first appearance in the New York Weekly in 1886, Carter soon graduated to his own series, the Nick Carter Weekly. A square-jawed, two-fisted, all-American hero, Carter proved to be a character of astonishing longevity. Transformed into a kind of sub-James Bond figure, he appeared in dozens of cheap paperbacks in the 1960s and new stories about him were still appearing in the early 1990s. In his earliest incarnations, he was kept busy righting wrongs across America and around the world in a series of breath-taking and occasionally fantastical adventures. He gathered about him a small platoon of willing assistants and faced a rogues’ gallery of memorable opponents, including the supervillain Doctor Quartz, Dazaar the Arch Fiend, and Zanoni the Woman Wizard. Authors such as Frederick van Rensselaer Day, George C Jenks and Thomas C Harbaugh churned out scores of stories which were published anonymously or attributed to the fictional ‘Chick Carter’, Nick’s adopted son. After the success of Sherlock Holmes in America, Carter evolved into a more traditional gentleman detective, mainly

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