Friday, December 12, 2008

The Lure of the Mystery

Why do we like puzzles and mysteries? Are we all police wannabes? Do we have a secret fantasy of being Sam Spade, Tempe Crabtree or Philip Marlowe? Have we watched every episode of Columbo? There is an innate need to know that makes us want to know whodunit.

And some of our favorite writers can make us work for it, creating a complex tale that taxes our investigative abilities! That's part of the joy of reading a mystery, though, isn't it? Do we fall for the red herrings sprinkled through the story? Or do we toss away a vital clue, served up to us on a silver platter, because we think it's a ruse to throw us off the scent? Do we figure it out, just after the writer gives us the answer? That's the goal of the mystery writer -- to hold the reader's interest, keep him or her thinking and trying to figure it out right to the climax of the reveal of the killer.

It's fun to abandon discrepant awareness and drift into the 1930s world of Hercule Poirot. Or to explore the newest forensics techniques for lifting fingerprints, tracking DNA or crime scene investigation. Is your preferred story a traditional cozy mystery, a modern, high-tech story, or even a futuristic detective with access to technology today's investigators can only dream of having?

Another reason we like mysteries? The bad guy always gets caught -- maybe he or she can't be prosecuted, but our detective figures out what s/he did and how it was done. And that's a very satisfying feeling!

So, grab a mystery by your favorite author and enjoy the journey!

Libby McKinmer


Chester Campbell said...

Interesting piece, Libby. I try to do all those things when writing a mystery, but when I read one, I prefer to just enjoy the flow of the story and make no effort to figure out who dun it. Unless the writer puts an awfully obvious clue in my path, they're all surprise endings.

Morgan Mandel said...

It does make a person feel good to know the bad guy gets it at the end. So often that doesn't happen in real life. Too much crime out there.

Morgan Mandel

Jean Henry Mead said...

My favorites are senior sleuths like Chester writes about so well. I also dauble in the sub genre. We oldtimers like to read about sleuths our own ages. :)