Thursday, April 14, 2016

Why do we love a mystery?

by Robert Kanehl
A factional Delight
     Who killed Andrew Gates’s father? Can he fill his father’s shoes?     These are the questions facing 14-year-old Andrew as he struggles to understand a world turned upside down. Based true events in 1880.


Guest Blog By Sandra Gardner 

Author of” MOTHER, MURDER AND ME,” winner of Swyers Publishing’s First New Author (fiction) Contest 2011, published by Swyers in 2012.  Available on, Barnes & and from the publisher. 

Who doesn’t love a mystery? Whether it’s a James Bond, Hercule Poirot, Inspector Morse, Stephanie Plum, Rizzoli and Isles -- we’ll gladly join the chase and follow along to find out whodunit. 
            Why?  Besides the fact that we’re curious and like answers to puzzles, a big reason is vicarious excitement. We can drop in and out of a mystery novel without putting our lives on hold. But most of us can’t drop our daily lives and follow a trail, sniff out clues, interview suspects, trap them in their own words and deeds. And would most of us want to put their life and maybe that of their loved ones -- in danger? Carry a lethal weapon or hone a deadly skill?  Maybe be at odds with the cops even to being pursued by them as well as a killer?   
             Then there’s our satisfaction at seeing good triumph over evil. Would we find the ending of a mystery as gratifying if the villain got to kill off the investigator and get away? We want our hero, our investigator, our main character, to fight the good fight and be rewarded in the end.
            This is where characterization comes in. If Stephanie Plum weren’t loveably comic, Hercule weren’t eccentrically brilliant, Rizzoli and Isles intrepid, Inspector Morse dogged, or James Bond suave, would we want to tag along in their latest adventure? 
            We want our investigator to be charismatic, intelligent, relentless, resourceful, wily and powerful, in his or her own way. We expect the same for the villain our investigator is pursuing -- along with being menacing.
            We want the chase to be fast-paced, to run into twists and turns along the road, to drop a red herring or two, and even though it’s fiction, to feel real enough for us to suspend belief and hang on for the ride.  Above all, we want to be surprised – by a discovery of an identity, the outcome of the chase, the unraveling of the mystery. In many cases, the surprise is whodunit. In some cases, for example, TV’s Lt. Columbo mysteries, we know who did it from the start.  It’s the lieutenant’s solving of the puzzle that provides the excitement and suspense.
            We want the suspense to start to build from the beginning and keep building.  It might work this way: there’s a murder, someone’s missing, something – such as money or jewels – is missing, there’s a plot against the government.
There’s another murder (or two or more). The missing person is found alive, dead, or not found till the end.  Or another person (or two or more) goes missing.  The plot against the government has a timeline, an assassination is planned, a bomb is set to go off, -- think “The Man Who Knew Too Much” or “The Manchurian Candidate.”    
            Whether it’s a courtroom, small gossipy village, CIA, MI5, big-city police department, coroner’s office, or Hercule Poirot summoning up his little gray cells, we get to be part of the action, enjoy the thrill of the chase, and find the solution. Where else, other than in the pages of a well-written mystery, could we experience all that – and more?

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