Holmes seems so human as we know so much about him and his lifestyle, making the reader feel they now him. He has an innate ability to see peculiar things at a crime scene (much like Dupin). This is shown in "The Speckled Band" where Holmes sees a bell-pull and investigates. "Indeed, it seemed unnecessary to put so nice a bell-pull there. You will excuse me for a few minutes while I satisfy myself as to this floor. " The bell-pull turns out to be fake and the key to the case. Holmes is a brilliant thinker yet rarely reveals his train of thought. The structure of a Holmes generally follows along the same lines each time.
The novels always start with the crime being committed; it has to be a dramatic crime to grip the attention of the reader, something like a murder of an important person. Holmes surveys the scene, seeing the clues left drawing his own conclusions. Soon after the suspects begin to emerge, the suspects are questioned, a person is wrongly accused, the evidence is reviewed and then a conclusion will be reached. There is always justice, be it poetic, lawful or any other kind of justice. The novels are very similar to Poe's "Murders In The Rue Morgue" in structure.
The Golden Age of crime fiction was the period of time when most of the classic crime fiction novels where written. This was the 1920's, 1930's and 1940's. The most well known writers in this period were Agatha Christie (Poirot) and Dorothy L. Sayers (creator of Lord Peter Wymsey). This was the most important time for crime fiction after Conan Doyle. The differences between novels written by Conan Doyle and the golden age novels are noticeable but the links are still clear. In the Conan Doyle novels the plot is based on characters whereas in the Agatha Christie books the plot and emphasis are on the puzzle.
The mystery was at the heart of every book of this period. The detective story is a "closed" story. This means it has a certain number of characters and an isolated setting needs to be used. Settings such as English villages, schools, the office, hospitals were extremely convenient and were easy to vary. The writers wrote their novels about upper or middle class people. Other closed settings such as prisons, wartime trenches, slum neighbourhoods could have been used but do not feature in detective fiction novels. This was carried in accordance with the rules of the genre and in accordance with silent conventions.
Dorothy L. Sayers was another writer of the golden age but her books are little read today. This is because her detective Lord Peter Wymsey is largely unpopular with the middle and working classes as he is an Upper-Class detective who doesn't need to work for a living and has a rather dated upper-class snobbish attitude, as a lord. The modern detective novel is still similar to the older crime fiction novel, yet a few changes are taking place. Compare for instance P. D James creation Inspector Dalgleish in "Great Aunt Allie's Flypapers".
Dalgleish is a senior man in the police force and therefore is independent in his behaviour. Whereas Holmes has no need to work for his money and therefore can pick and choose which cases he takes on. With the coming of the Golden Age conclusions became more plausible. After the ridiculous ending to "The Murders on the Rue Morgue" where an ape was revealed as the killer more plausible endings such as in the "Murder on the Orient Express" by Agatha Christie in which Poirot finds out the whole train carried out the murder but does nothing because he feels it was justified.
Another case in point is the P. D James book Great Aunt Allie's Flypaper in which Dalgleish never exposed Boxdale as the killer as he was a child when the murder took place. The whole genre is moving towards psychological crime fiction from the old crime fiction novels. The emphasis today is now on a 'Why- Dunnit' case than a 'Who-Dunnit'. Ruth Rendall's Live Flesh is a perfect example of a 'Why-Dunnit' book as we already know the murderer from the start and the book is about finding out his motive.
Crime Fiction novels now are based in circumstances that are easy to relate to as Crime Fiction tends to reflect it's society. In the traditional crime fiction that still remains strong today, we see a lot more women detectives, less upper-class people feature in the novels then in the golden age. Although the general structure of the crime fiction novel has not changed significantly since Conan Doyle's days, the other elements of the genre (i. e. the detective, other characters) have changed dramatically
We can see evidence of the changes in the different elements of crime fiction easily within novels as we move forward in time. There are very few lords and ladies in modern crime fiction novels. This is because we now demand realism in our characters. In the modern novel there are everyday people who are easy to relate to. However, the characteristics of the detective have changed little. They still see more than the average person at a crime scene as Holmes does the fake bell-pull in "The Speckled Band" They have several innate abilities and personal touches like Dalgleish's
insight when he sees the curtains in the house and thinks someone could hide behind. This is the key to the case in "Great Aunt Allie's Flypapers". The detectives' insight can be seen by comparing the characters of Holmes and Inspector Dalgleish from Great Aunt Allie's Flypapers written by P. D James we find they are very similar. Something else that has stayed the same is the basic crime fiction story. From the first Sherlock Holmes book, the structure of the crime novel has changed little.
The crime itself is always the start of the book, the detective surveys the scene, the suspects emerge, the suspects are questioned, the evidence is reviewed then a conclusion is reached. The demand for realism nowadays affects the outcome of a book. When an ape was unveiled as the killer at the end of "The Murders In The Rue Morgue" by Dupin, the ending was accepted. If this was written today, the ending and book would have been dismissed as rubbish. The crime fiction genre is evolving all the time. In years to come the majority of crime fiction books written will probably have a largely psychological edge to them.
People tend to enjoy crime fiction because they have all the same clues as the detective yet they like to try and solve the mystery before he does. This will not change as we move toward psychological crime fiction as people will now try and work out why the criminal committed the crime before the detective does. Crime fiction has been one of the most popular genres thanks to classic authors like Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie and Ruth Rendall. There is no reason why this success cannot continue in the exciting new direction long into the 21st century.