Crime fiction is a literary genre covering criminal activity, its motivations and methods, and its eventual resolution. Some works go beyond the crime and deal with the interpersonal dynamics between criminal and fellow criminal, criminal and lawful personage, and other significant people in the same sphere of influence. Several recurring tropes and sub-genres exist within crime fiction, including detective stories, political thrillers, and heist tales. The genre is flexible enough to bleed into other fiction genres, such as science fiction and classical horror.
Many experts acknowledge Steen Steensen Blicher's 1829 work "The Rector of Veilbye" as the first crime novel, although stories of crime have been dated as early as "One Thousand and One Nights," which has evidence of being written as early as the 10th century. Crime fiction was only considered to have solidified as a distinct literary genre, however, by the early 1900s. During this time, literary magazines and pulp fiction publications noted that tales of criminal activity sold well among the public, and subsequently printed large amounts of the stories in response to the demand One notable series developed at the time was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's "Sherlock Holmes" stories, which helped catapult crime fiction to new heights of popularity.
The defining sub-genre of crime fiction is the whodunit, which takes its name from the phrase "Who done it?" As the label would suggest, these stories often dealt with a crime and its mysterious perpetrator. Readers followed the protagonist — most often a detective — as he attempted to identify the culprit based on a series of clues. Most whodunits dealt with either murders or theft, a trend that continues with modern fiction.
In some cases, crime fiction mysteries involved the method of the crime, rather than the culprit. This sub-genre is often called the "locked-room" mystery, in which the protagonist attempts to discover how an otherwise impossible crime was committed. The sub-genre takes its name for the recurring theme in which the perpetrator of the crime was able to commit it, with no clear way on how he was able to enter or exit the scene of the crime. Protagonists of these tales often uncover a secret passage that allowed the crime, and the revelation can be interspersed with whodunit elements.
Modern crime fiction has extended well beyond victim, crime, and detective mysteries, including genres such as espionage thrillers such as Ian Fleming's "James Bond" series and criminal-life dramas like Mario Puzo's "The Godfather." Some stories, such as John Grisham's "The Firm," deal with the legal ramifications of criminal activity. Authors often mix other popular genres such as high fantasy with crime fiction elements, further broadening the genre's spectrum.