What is it about mysteries that hold our attention so strongly? Even when we know who committed the crime we are desperate for details. It is like a giant jigsaw puzzle and we are trying to see the pattern in the pieces as we fit them together one by one. We are called upon to judge the veracity of each witness’ testimony. We are often called upon to use our experience of human psychology and our observations of human behavior to deduce what actions make sense and which ones are suspicious. And yet, it is not just an intellectual activity but also an emotional one.
We want the good guys to win and the bad guys to get caught. We are disturbed when our expectations are not met. When the good guys are corrupt and the bad guys have laudable motives it rankles.
On the other hand, we love to see the detective get led down dead ends following up on red herring leads. Especially when we have been given all the same evidence that the detective has and have managed to avoid the red herrings.
In the last twenty years or so detective stories have divided into two separate categories, the forensic procedural where the science is the star and the detectives just do the leg work to collect more physical evidence, and the psycho drama where the detective has to immerse themselves in the psychology of the suspect to figure out what he did and how he did it. Both are equally valid approaches.
When boiled down to the basics, most mysteries are quests for the solution to the puzzle. How did the criminal pull of the crime? How are they attempting to escape incarceration? What inventive schemes did they come up with to attempt their crime and how does the detective thwart them? Figuring out these details is the job of the mystery writer. Unveiling these details in such a way that the reader figures out the mystery just as the detective solves it is part of the art of the genre.
Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the ones you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.