Thursday, January 15, 2009

What is the attraction of a good mystery?

Thursday, January 15, 2008

What is the attraction of a good mystery?

Maybe it is that mysteries are really different things to different people. For some they are exciting adventures, car chases, threats to the protagonist (Alex Cross), and action all the way. For some they are puzzles. For some (and this would include me) they are fascinating characters wrapped in a good plot. And for others (again this includes me), they are an opportunity to learn new things.

Many mystery stories involve telling you about something unfamiliar. That may be the culture of a people (Tony Hillerman) or the history of a particular time and place (Bruce Alexander).

Mysteries can be built around animals or around a particular occupation. I've read mysteries about people who run flower shops and mysteries about people who sell antique furniture. Neither of them were classic stories. They were just stories with a puzzle in them.

In a way, mysteries are the penny press of certain readers. We don't buy mystery novels looking for classic literature. We buy them looking for a "good read," something that might entertain us, and once in a while we might get something more. We don't expect them to be timeless (though a few may be). We just want entertainment, a few hours away.

You may be different than I am. For me there is something relaxing about reading. Watching TV or working on the computer is not particularly relaxing, but reading a good story is. And for me, writing is about the most fun I can have in my old age. Learning about people I didn't even know where lurking in my little brain is always fun (and sometimes scary).

So I am glad I came to be a mystery story reader early in my life. I am glad I am still able to read mysteries. And I'm glad I write mystery stories.

In the future, mysteries may come cloaked in different ways (maybe the Kindle or run as serials on the Internet, for example), but all in all, they will still be mystery stories. I thank God for that.



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