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Death in the Deep South: Historical Louisiana Mystery Fiction

Posted in Special Collections Tagged with: ,

Louisiana has never been a stranger to murder, mystery, and mayhem. In the nineteenth and early twentieth century, violence was so commonplace that only the most unusual incidents received much public scrutiny. “The mere fact of a man being shot down in a street duel, or a member of ‘La Mafia’ found with his throat cut in a cul de sac in the French Quarter, attracts but little general attention,” William Ward, author of The Murderer of New Orleans, wrote in 1907. “Such things are not rare enough to be interesting.”

Apart from true crime, Louisiana has also been the setting for countless fictional “whodunits.” The state’s mysterious landscape and history, combined with its diverse cultural elements, provides the perfect backdrop for tales of wrongdoing. The Louisiana and Lower Mississippi Valley Collection in the LSU Libraries’ Special Collections contains hundreds of examples of Louisiana mystery and detective fiction dating from the nineteenth century to the present. Here are a few early titles…

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William Ward, The Murderer of New Orleans: A Story of Hypnotism, Passion, and Crime (Cleveland: Buckeye Publishing, 1907). “In some respects, New Orleans is the strangest, most picturesque and interesting city in the American Union… Its population is decidedly mixed, having a large infusion of French, Spanish, Sicilian, Italian, and Portuguese… Add to these, thousands of negroes, old and young, good and bad, and a horde of gamblers and desperadoes, who have always found the ‘Crescent City’ a favorite field of operations, and there is no trouble in understanding how it is that life is fast and feverish in the big town on the Mississippi.” (page 12)

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Harry Irving Hancock, Detective Johnson of New Orleans: A Tale of Love and Crime (New York: J.S. Ogilvie, 1891).

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Illustration from Frances Nimmo Greene, Into the Night: A Story of New Orleans (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1909). Fictional murder mystery inspired by the 1890 assassination of New Orleans police chief David Hennessy and the subsequent lynching of eleven Italian-Americans alleged to have been involved in the crime. One of the first American novels featuring the Mafia.

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Ward Greene, Death in the Deep South (New York: Stackpole Sons, 1936); Mary Kerr Duke, The Mystery of Castlegreen: A Louisiana Romance (New York: Broadway Publishing, 1913); K. T. Knobloch, Murder in the Mind (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1932) and Take up the Bodies (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1933).

Michael Taylor is Curator of Books, LSU Libraries' Special Collections

Posted in Special Collections Tagged with: ,

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