By Elaine Viets
Sex, violence, perjury, crooked judges, blackmail – and police procedural techniques still used today. All these are in the first detective story.
So which one is it?
Some say the first detective story was Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” way back in 1841. Wilkie Collins generally gets credit for the first detective novel, “The Moonstone,” in 1868. And others claim Metta Victoria Fuller wrote the first American detective novel, “The Dead Letter,” in 1866. After that, scholars slug it out until we get to the undisputed champion, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his detective, Sherlock Holmes, in 1887.
But I agree with M.T. Logan that the first detective story was published several thousand years earlier. It’s the story of Susanna and the Elders. If you’re Catholic or Greek Orthodox, Susannah is in the Book of Daniel and is considered divinely inspired. For Protestants and many other religions, the story is part of the Apocrypha, the books that didn’t quite make the cut.
Susanna was a young married Jewish woman, living in Babylon. She was God-fearing and good-looking. Susanna liked to walk in her husband’s orchard, and two old pervs – excuse me, two highly respected judges – liked to watch. They fell madly in lust with her, and conspired “when they might find her alone,” as the Good Book says. The old creeps lucked out.
On a hot day, Susanna decided to take a bath in the orchard. The two old men hid themselves and watched as she told her maids, “Bring me oil, and washing balls, and shut the doors of the orchard, that I may wash me.” As soon as the maids brought the things for Susanna’s bath, they shut the doors and left. Nobody knew that the two old degenerates were lurking in the orchard.
Once the doors were shut, the horny old coots cornered Susanna, and said she’d better have sex with them, or they would lie and say “that a young man was with thee, and therefore thou didst send away thy maids.”
Susanna realized she was damned if she did and damned if she didn’t, but she’d be damned if she’d have sex with those two creeps. “It is better for me to fall into your hands without doing it, then to sin in the sight of the Lord,” she said.
Susanna screamed and the old blackmailers screamed, and there was a trial. The judges testified falsely against Susanna, claiming she was with a young stud under a tree, and they’d tried to stop this terrible sin of adultery. The young man got away, but the judges caught Susanna. “The multitude believed them, as being the elders, and the judges of the people, they condemned her to death.”
This was long before #MeToo, and while adultery was a sin for both sexes, it was a bigger sin for women. The patriarchs didn’t want free-range women begetting someone’s child.
Susanna called out to God, “I have done none of these things, which these men have maliciously forged against me.”
In stepped young Daniel, who said, “I am clear of the blood of this woman.”
He lectured the crowd for condemning Susanna “without examination or knowledge of the truth.”
He then conducted his investigation the way all good modern police officers do. He separated the two judges.
He asked the first judge under what tree did he see Susanna doing the wild thing with the young hunk. The judge said, “under a mastic tree.” That tree is where chewing gum comes from.
The second judge claimed Susanna did the deed under a holm tree, a type of oak.
The two lying judges had convicted themselves “by their own mouth.” They were killed.
So there you have it – a detective story with a victim, two villains, and a hero who knew how to search for the truth.
Just out! A STAR IS DEAD, my fourth Angela Richman mystery. Publishers Weekly calls it “skillfully plotted” and says it has “witty dialogue and well-defined characters.”
Buy it now: https://www.amazon.com/Angela-Richman-Death-Investigator-mystery/dp/0727890166/ref=sr_1_1?crid=3P57RLYRP7F08&keywords=a+star+is+dead+by+elaine+viets&qid=1583967357&s=books&sprefix=A+Star+Is+Dead%2Cstripbooks%2C170&sr=1-1