A whodunit or whodunnit (for "Who['s] done it?") is a complex, plot-driven variety of the detective story in which the puzzle is the main feature of interest. The reader is provided with clues from which the identity of the perpetrator of the crime may be deduced before the solution is revealed in the final pages of the book. The investigation is usually conducted by an eccentric amateur or semi-professional detective. The locked-room mystery is a specialized kind of a whodunit.
The "whodunit" flourished during the so-called "Golden Age" of detective fiction, during the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s, when it was the predominant mode of crime writing. Many of the best writers of whodunits in this period were British — notably Agatha Christie, Nicholas Blake, Christianna Brand and Edmund Crispin, Michael Innes, Dorothy L. Sayers, Josephine Tey. Others — S. S. Van Dine, John Dickson Carr, and Ellery Queen — were American, but imitated the "English" style. Still others, such as Rex Stout, Clayton Rawson, and Earl Derr Biggers, attempted a more "American" style.
Over time, certain conventions and clichés developed that limited any surprises on the part of the reader to the details of the plot and of course to the identity of the murderer. Several authors excelled, after misleading their readers successfully, in revealing to them convincingly an unlikely suspect as the real villain of the story. What is more, they had a predilection for certain casts of characters and settings, with the secluded English country house at the top of the list.
A U.S. reaction to the cozy conventionality of British murder mysteries was the American "hard-boiled" school of crime writing of Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, and Mickey Spillane, among others. Yet, more often than not, though the setting was grittier, the violence more likely to be on-stage, and the style more colloquial, the plots were, as often as not, whodunits constructed in much the same way as the "cozier" British mysteries they were written in reaction to.
Currently popular are live "whodunit" experiences, including game form, where guests at a private party might use cards, a board, or video from a pre-packaged box, to perform the roles of the suspects and detective; and there are a number of murder mystery dinner theaters, where either professional or community theatre performers take on those roles, and present the murder mystery to an audience, usually in conjunction with a meal. Typically before or immediately following the final course, the audience is given a chance to offer their help in solving the mystery.
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