Clues to the Popularity of the Mystery
Do you love a good mystery novel? Well, you’re not alone. The whodunit, be it in print, or adapted to the screen or internet, continues to be one of the world’s most beloved genres. So what’s lurking behind its popularity?
Historically, the mystery novel began in the mid 1800’s with Edgar Allen Poe and Wilkie Collins. The English plot thickened with Sherlock Holmes and continued at a raging gallop into the twentieth century with the early queens of the so-called cozies: Daphne du Maurier, Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers.
Settings were often a small English village where evil lurked in the library but was never seen.
Jane Marple and Lord Peter Wimsey used their personal insight and intellect to nab the killers, leaving the police plods in their wake. In the end, though, you knew very little about the sleuths or murderers themselves, no one in the stories seemed changed and life went on as usual.
Post World War Two introduced a new character from America, the private dick, a hard-boiled, smart-talking fallen angel from the Underwood typewriters of giants like Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler and James M Cain. These tough-guy outcasts—and they were always guys—gave as good as they got, skirting the lines of morality while usually solving the mystery at their personal expense.
Since then, the mystery scene’s gone global, the plot’s thicker still. There are sleuths of all descriptions, even cats, quadriplegics, and Queen Elizabeth the second, and enough DNA and forensic evidence to choke a morgue full of coroners.
In today’s crime novels, however, the detective is explored as much as the crime. His or her personal life comes into play, colouring, sometimes mudding, the murder investigation. And the ultimate crime takes a serious toll on everyone affected.
Not only are mysteries being written all over the world, they now explore an amazing variety of themes. And the writing styles range from crisp and hard as a revolver’s butt, to lyrical and smooth as a black mask. If you want humour, nature, excitement or romance, there’s a whodunit for you. Seeking tragedy, passion, or insight into the human condition? Grab a good crime story and fill your gumshoes.
So, we’ve investigated the crime scene. What evidence have we uncovered? Ah, the following four clues are elementary, dear Watson:
CLUE 1: The Shocking Out of Place Body
· W.H. Auden was first on the scene by observing that there is potential for more horror in one single body on the drawing room floor, than in a dozen, bullet-riddled bodies down a large city’s mean streets;
CLUE 2: The Challenge of the Puzzle
· All right, you’re in the box and it's confession time. Admit it: you delight in trying to outwit the detective and discover whodunit first;
CLUE 3: The Affirmation of the Sanctity of Human Life
· No matter the victim— queen or prostitute—their death is investigated, and the murderer is caught and punished. Though even this tenet is being challenged by the likes of Minette Walters and Walter Mosley
CLUE 4: The Return to Order from Disorder
· The world suddenly gone mad, almost returns to normal by story’s end, and right is restored.
So given all this, the real mystery is why we wondered about its popularity in the first place?
Nicola Furlong survives the travails of writing by playing hockey, gardening and eating chocolate. She is a shameless self-promoter, an electronic book publisher, a producer of a how-to podcast for mystery writers as well as promotional book trailers. Nicola is the co-creator of a new multimedia storytelling platform called a Quillr®, showcased through her controversial suspense thriller, UnnaturalStates.
She is the author of two stand-alone mysteries (Teed Off! and A Hemorrhaging of Souls), six inspirational cozies from the Church Choir Mystery series (The Nervous Nephew, The Angel’s Secret, The Unsuitable Suitor, No Safe Arbor, Plots & Pans and The Sad Clown Affair) and two non-fiction writing primers (Youdunit Whodunit! How to Write Mysteries and Self-Publish Your Ebook in Minutes!). She has also written a gardening guide for the West Coast and has adapted two of her novels to screenplays; both were optioned for television. Nicola lives in small town on southern Vancouver Island where she is now creating an interactive children's book for the iPad and iPhone. For more information, please visit www.nicolafurlong.com and www.epubbing.com.