In her posthumously published autobiography, Agatha Christie revealed that she wrote The Mysterious Affair at Styles, her first detective novel, in two weeks. Ed McBain wrote his early 87th precinct novels in about a month each. Christie and McBain were in the company of the titans of what are known as "industry writers," people who can turn out one extraordinary book after another, people who vie for the title "Fastest Typewriter in the West," or anywhere else. Erle Stanley Gardner wrote mysteries for half a century and delivered more than a thousand books. In 1939 alone Gardner published four novels, eighteen novelettes, two short stories, and five articles. John Creasey wrote more than five hundred novels between 1932 and 1979. In 1939, Creasey published thirty-eight novels.
There were many other mystery writers who wrote quickly. Between 1906 and 1932 Edgar Wallace wrote more than one hundred and seventy books. Phillips Oppenheim wrote more than one hundred and fifty novels and short story collections between 1887 and 1944. In the eleven months between May 1932 and April 1933 Georges Simenon wrote ten novels. His goal was to write a novel in eleven days. He wrote two hundred and twenty novels in his career.
Sometimes genre writers are accused of being able to write quickly because the novels are generally briefer and supposedly have less psychological depth, thematic complexity, and linguistic density than "real" literature. Such an assertion ignores literary writers. John Steinbeck wrote The Grapes of Wrath between June and October in 1928. Herman Melville took just six months to write Moby-Dick. (I think it took me six months to read it.) Noel Coward wrote Blithe Spirit in six days. There are claims Dostoyevsky wrote Crime and Punishment very fast to pay off gambling debts. And Robert Louis Stevenson's stepson wrote that the famous author composed Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in three days. These feats are not just true of literature. Handel wrote the "Hallelujah Chorus" in three days and the whole of The Messiah in three weeks.
Mystery writers who write quickly are not necessarily shortchanging literature. Certainly mystery authors writing a series book start off with an advantage. The setting is usually familiar as is the protagonist and the protagonist's surrounding entourage. But the plots have to be worked out and the language has to be enticing.
Mystery writers sometimes work rapidly for the same reason as other artists do. Tlhey are inspired. Or the writing is a powerful and constantly needed release from anxiety. Or the tension is only relieved when the book is completed so there is great incentive to finish it quickly.
But I think the crime novel uniquely benefits from being quickly written. Authors can keep the entire story in their minds. Writing a mystery requires a specific mental framework in which characters, plots, motives, clues, red herrings, setting, literary devices, and other matters all must be in perfect harmony and perspective. There are more novelistic aspects in a mystery than in a "regular" novel. Time dissipates the mind's ability to hold all these in a pattern. Writing quickly enhances the virtues of the tightly-woven mystery tale. Mystery authors should be celebrated and recognized because theirs is a complex intellectual task that, when done well, is compelling to readers' minds and hearts.