Of course, there’s another kind of pleasure given by a good mystery.
And this is perhaps the one that springs most readily to mind when we talk about the thrills of mystery fiction.
In a way, this is the experience we read for …
… the one that occurs at the end of a mystery novel. Of course, what I’m talking about is the solution — the point where you find out who committed the murders.
Am I right? Is that the experience you read for? Please add a comment.
In that moment, we experience …
well, it’s complicated, isn’t it, and there’ll be more posts about it, but for now we could say that it’s a good feeling, an excited, satisfied feeling. I’m calling it
“the thrill of finding out”.
Again, does anyone have a better name?
The first thing to say about the thrill of finding out is … well …
… there is just so much pl-e-e-a-a-s-u-re
This is the delight of finding the hidden thread that pulls together an array of confusing facts, of solving a puzzle, of revealing the hidden significance of things.
It’s the slap on the forehead, the surprise, and the recognition of the rightness of the answer, of its coherence with everything that has already been told. At the same time, if it is done well, there is an appreciation of the mastery of it, the skill with which the sleight of hand has been performed.
It’s related to many other kinds of puzzle solving and game-playing pleasure, isn’t it? Does anyone have anything enlightening to add?
Crooked House (1953) by Agatha Christie
SPOILER ALERT: I’m not actually going to tell you who the murderer is, but what follows will reveal some plot points. You should read the book before you go on.
Someone has murdered Aristide Leonides. Suspicion has fallen on everyone, and eventually it lands on the governess, Edith de Havilland.
No seriously. Don’t miss this experience. Go and read Crooked House now.
There’s a climax in which Edith drives off with the twelve year old Josephine, and deliberately crashes her car, killing them both.
And then the detectives find a diary …
“I remembered Edith de Havilland’s ruthless foot grinding bindweed into the earth. I remembered my early, almost fanciful suspicions … and then I saw the entry on the first page. Sounding from a long way away, I heard Sophia’s voice, clear and self-controlled, ‘We’ve got it all wrong,’ she said. ‘Edith didn’t do it.’ ‘No,’ I said. ‘It was …’” (p187)
There it is. Did you feel it? I’m guessing, if you have found this website and read this far, you are someone who is going to get it.
That shiver …
that delicious moment, when after a complex network of plots, subplots and suspicions and twists, the detective proclaims everything to be actually perfectly simple.
We have, we are told, been watching the magician’s right hand swirling silk ribbons, while in his left he was swapping the cards around.
Of course, like most things, our love of murder mysteries is a lot more complicated than that. There are other kinds of thrill in these novels, and maybe deeper things, too. That is what these pages are about.
Somewhere in the posts I’ll talk more about the thrill of not knowing. In a way, I think this is more important than the thrill of finding out. This is the thrill that keeps us going back to the bookshelf and picking up another murder mystery.
And there’s also a GREAT BIG IDEA that I think lies behind all of this. The reason mysteries aren’t junk literature, the reason they are actually important.
Yeeesh. Always, with the …
Thanks to these people for the images.
A portrait of Samuel Johnson by Joshua Reynolds https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Samuel_Johnson_by_Joshua_Reynolds_2.png
Frans Hals (1582/1583–1666) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Frans_Hals_008.jpg
Zan Zig performing with rabbit and roses, including hat trick and levitation, by Strobridge Litho. Co., Cincinnati & New York Restoration by trialsanderrors and Morn [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Zan_Zig_performing_with_rabbit_and_roses,_magician_poster,_1899-2.jpg
Caïn venant de tuer son frère Abel, by Henry Vidal in Tuileries Garden in Paris, France by Alex E. Proimos (http://www.flickr.com/photos/proimos/4199675334/) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Paris_Tuileries_Garden_Facepalm_statue.jpg