I’ve always been afraid of things that go bump in the night. In fact, it’s 4:30 a.m. and instead of dreaming of sugar plums or unicorns I’m awake because of a recurring dream where something not quite human has me trapped and is going to kill me if I don’t wake up. Like the devil, he has many faces and shapes but regardless of the assumed identity, it is the same creature-spirit that pursues me in my sleep and chases me back to the conscious world.
Possibly, I write mysteries because of my personal dream mystery? Anything is possible.
My analytical mind tells me I write mysteries because I love puzzles and I love justice. Hokey as it may be, I cheer when the bad guy gets what he deserves. I celebrate the demise of tyrants no matter how large or small their kingdoms. I never tire of good triumphing over evil. And yes, Virginia, there is good and there is evil. If you don’t think so, I suggest you read books by authors such as John Douglas and Ann Rule. Or just pick up a copy of In Cold Blood
Regardless of the psychobabble that abounds, there’s nothing that explains away the acts of evil that are perpetrated against the innocent man, woman or child. As I write this, children are being beheaded on the other side of the world, because of opposing religious beliefs. If that isn’t evil, than I don’t know what is. Can that be blamed on bad childhoods or brain disorders? Absolutely not. No moral relativism here, my friends.
And like the devil of my dreams, evil has many faces – an angelic adolescent, a cranky old man, a charming politician, a beautiful woman, a brilliant academic. You can never know them by their looks or position in life, you can only know them by their actions.
But why write about it? Good question.
It’s easy to understand why a writer would pen a romance because don’t we all want love in our lives? Or adventure because most of us live lives of routine and predictability. Who doesn’t fantasize about a larger than life experience? Science fiction and fantasy present worlds where the possibilities are endless and limited only by the imagination – what’s not to love there?
Solving a puzzle is a satisfying accomplishment and seeking justice is laudible. But murder and mayhem is not for sissies. It’s messy, often bloody and immerses you into the basest desires of men. Who wants to write about that? And why?
There are many reasons I suppose that a writer might choose mysteries. Maybe because there are so many mysteries in life that we cannot solve, that we cling to something concrete, that only requires we follow the clues and find the evidence to resolve it. Or that solving that mystery reassures us that the natural order of things have been restored and life is safe to live once again. Or maybe it’s something altogether different. Or maybe different for every mystery writer who ever lived.
For me, the appeal of writing mysteries is the way it makes your blood boil and your heart pound. The pursuit of the truth of that tiny universe of hunter versus killer (ironically) makes you feel so damned alive. Engages you. Seduces you. Keeps you up at night. It’s a slap in the face with a shovel handle. It’s the involuntary gasp and jump when a floor board creaks. It’s an adrenaline high unlike any other. And quite possibly addictive. And that goes for writer and reader alike.
No matter what else man is, he is a curious beast at heart. And nothing will drive a human being more nuts than an answer that eludes him. Particularly if the one posing the questions is adept at making it seem easy yet interesting. “Step into my web,” said the spider to the fly.
In America, mysteries became particularly popular during the Depression which was the heyday of pulp fiction. Mysteries were once looked upon as the poor man’s reading material (and perhaps they still are, genre fiction often isn’t taken seriously) – unlike literary fiction meant for the finer mind (ahem). But I reject that classification – to me mysteries:
- Engage the mind
- Make you think
- Teach you to solve problems
- Increase your alertness
- Sharpens your observatory skills
- And probably helps your endocrine system what with all that adrenaline pumping
What fine mind couldn’t use a good dose of the above? Got me.
Why do you read or write mysteries?
Next to romance, mystery novels are the most popular form of fiction among readers. Do you write mysteries? What drew you to the genre? Do you read mysteries? Have you called in sick to work so you could finish or stayed up all night just to finish one? Do you find the genre as addictive as I?
Feel free to agree with me, challenge me, debate me or enlighten me in the comments.