Why do I like mysteries? Atmosphere has a lot to do with it, entering a world of fog and darkness and startling possibilities. Problem solving is another draw, not just in being able to guess “who done it,” but in pursuing the smug satisfaction that comes from successfully predicting the moves of another author, particularly a good one. Ironically, a greater pleasure comes when the author outwits me; humbling as it is, I love it when the outcome of a story is not at all what I anticipated. (That is, when the author plays fair and sets down a trail of clues that were right there for all to see.)
Ultimately, though, life is a mystery, and a good mystery story allows me to explore scenarios that frighten and fascinate me, which gnaw at my curiosity and cause me to wonder how I would hold up if confronted with such a reality. All of us wonder how we would react in the face of danger or tragedy, and a well written story allows us to experience a terrible event without actually living through it.
Of course, any fine novel allows the reader to experience harrowing events, but there’s a tradition to mysteries that offers another element. The protagonist in the most dearly loved mysteries solve their crimes, outwit evil-doers and face malevolent forces with style – often with good humor – at least with a spirit of gritty, world-weary romance. In this way, mysteries are inspirational, providing an aspirational blueprint for facing and enduring the worst that life has to offer.
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