(This follows on from the post What is a Murder Mystery For?)
Why do we love murder mysteries? The answer should be available to us, shouldn’t it?
It should be right there in front of us when we pick up a book.
Yes? It should be in plain sight, especially at the most important, or at least the most thrilling, reading moments … say at the point in a detective novel where a body is discovered.
All right, let’s have a look at one.
I’m about to describe what I feel when I read something like this, but what about you? How would you describe your response to this passage? Please add a comment.
Well I’m … what? … intrigued, disturbed, excited, curious …
(And look, this is not to trivialise death and suffering, or bereavement, or grieving or anxiety, or loneliness or deep deep sorrow. I know mystery books sometimes feel like games, and it is the game-playing side that we are concentrating on here. But no one’s pretending that death isn’t desperately sad, or that pain isn’t unthinkable, or that mortality isn’t profoundly significant, or that violence is not deplorable. On most of these pages, those things are brushed aside, but they come in at the end. And they underlie everything else. That should become more apparent as we go. Because, in a way, mortality, and the sadness, and the deplorableness are crucial to the whole business. )
All right, back to the novels.
Someone finds a body.
Here, at the beginning of a mystery, the reader experiences what I think of as
the thrill of not knowing.
You probably have a better name for it. Please leave a comment.
This is the sense that we have been presented with a fascinating and terrible picture, and that that picture consists mostly of holes … THAT THERE ARE GREAT EMPTY SPACES in our knowledge of what has happened.
It might not even be a body that elicits this. What about something we simply don’t understand?
This is the beginning of a mystery. It’s the event or statement that seems to the reader at once incomprehensible and full of significance. It’s the strange object, the sideways glance, the hidden meaning. It is, in short, a clue, and it evokes
a world of infinite possibility.
An unknown draws the reader onwards, into a story, into everything we don’t know, but it also, right there at the beginning, supplies a thrill in itself.
It puts us in a state of not knowing, and, if you’re a reader of detective novels, you’ll probably agree that that state
holds an enchantment and a beauty all of its own.
Do you agree? Can you please share thoughts about the thrill of not knowing?
Of course, to anyone who has ever read a murder mystery it will be glaringly obvious at this point that there’s something I haven’t covered yet. There’s another point in a mystery novel which always gives a thrill.
Thanks to these people for the images.
“Camille Corot – A Woman Reading – The Metropolitan Museum of Art” by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot – Metropolitan Museum of Art. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Camille_Corot_-_A_Woman_Reading_-_The_Metropolitan_Museum_of_Art.jpg#/media/File:Camille_Corot_-_A_Woman_Reading_-_The_Metropolitan_Museum_of_Art.jpg
“Lesmiserables 1900 valjean rescues Marius” by Mead Schaeffer – Les Miserables, 1900 US edition. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lesmiserables_1900_valjean_rescues_Marius.jpg#/media/File:Lesmiserables_1900_valjean_rescues_Marius.jpg