I LOVE murder mysteries. Sit me down with an Agatha Christie novel and I’m happy (despite the fact that I absolutely destroyed my mother’s copy of Murder on the Orient Express when I was a kid). Ditto for Terry Pratchett’s Sam Vimes, although his aren’t always murder mysteries. But I’m digressing.
Considering that murder mysteries constantly show up on pretty much any top grossing booklists, I’m pretty safe in assuming a lot of other people feel the same way. What is it that draws us time and again to pick up a good old whodunnit?
As I’ve said before death by its very nature seems to attract our curiosity in a muriad of ways and I would suggest that mysteries are simply an extension of that. Coupled with our natural curiosity toward any puzzles and our constant quest for justice you’ve got a winner in all mysteries and especially so in murder mysteries where the stakes start high. By necessity, every murder mystery begins with the loss of a human life and seeing as we are all quite closely related (in the grand scheme of things) the death of anyone, even fictional, necessarily raises the stakes.
Then there is the detective. Whether he or she (for convenience’s sake she from now on) has a knack for simply noticing things or has a superior intellect, they are always, always people of a compelling nature. These are the people you want see asking questions and taking names. They may be likeable like Christie’s Mrs. Marple or obnoxious heroin-addicts like the famous Sherlock Holmes. But they are always someone you can’t tear your eyes away from once they get into their flow.
Last but not least is the Big Reveal where the murderer is exposed often in a breathtaking finale where the last puzzle pieces fall into place. Hopefully at this point you have (to quote David Brin) readers “hating themselves for being just 5 I.Q. points too stupid to figure it out.”
For me, when it’s good it’s VERY good. And when it’s bad, it’s still usually pretty okay.