The first chapter of Lucy Sussex's Women Writers and Detectives in Nineteenth-Century Crime Fiction: The Mothers of the Mystery Genre (2010) surveys "the beginnings of crime fiction" in the picaresque novel (Moll Flanders), true crime texts (the Newgate Calendar and newspaper reportage) and, last but definitely not least, the Gothic novel (The Mysteries of Udolpho).
In his survey Bloody Murder, Julian Symons (1972) specifically excludes the Gothic novel from his consideration of the origins of the detective novel, arguing that "Gothic novelists wanted to arouse in their readers feelings of terror and delight at the horrific plight of the central character, and they used mysterious events to enhance these feelings. The solution of a puzzle was not for them the main interest of the book."
Douglas G. Greene, the esteemed biographer of John Dickson Carr, similarly has noted that some Gothic novels, like The Mysteries of Udolpho, "conclude with natural explanations of the terrors, and these novels, when combined with other influences, eventually lead to the detective story."
Sussex comes down with Murch and Greene, declaring that the "Gothic is a Pangaea of genre literatures, containing within it the future continents of horror, science fiction...and crime writing....perhaps most crucial is what mystery is involved in the Gothic context: the depiction of a sensational motif or incident, with its explanation being delayed until much later in the narrative."
Connections between the Gothic novel and Victorian sensation novel and, even later, the Golden Age so-called "Had I But Known" mystery suspense narratives are especially clear. Female authors associated with these mystery forms--Radcliffe, Mary Elizabeth Braddon, Ellen Wood, Mary Roberts Rinehart, Mignon Eberhart--received especially short shrift from Symons, their work getting either ignored or, frankly, denigrated when even acknowledged.
Yet in many ways their mystery writing has had a greater influence on modern crime fiction than the strictly fair play, clue puzzle detective fiction of the Golden Age. (Interestingly, crime writer and reviewer Todd Downing, a great admirer of female-authored mysteries, in 1936 expressly compared Mignon Eberhart's novels with those of "Mrs. Radcliffe," adding that Eberhart had performed some needed "pruning of the Gothic impedimenta"--see my book Clues and Corpses: The Detective Fiction and Mystery Criticism of Todd Downing.)
Sussex follows with other examples of female investigators in women-authored fiction, including Jane Austen's satiric Northanger Abbey, Elizabeth Gaskell's Mary Barton ("although not generic crime, it includes a murder mystery in its plot structure," she notes) and several works by Frances Trollope. It is all very stimulating stuff for the student of the mystery genre and there is much more, as Sussex takes us from the criminous fiction of Catherine Crowe to that of Anna Katharine Green. I shall look at all this in the concluding piece, part four.