A positive spin on crime fiction
January 2, 2013 by jfhilborne
I’ve noticed a lot of recent discussion about fictional crime compared to real life crime, with plenty of focus on the negative aspects of fictional crime, especially in the face of the horrific shooting events in the US. The fictional violence and brutality sometimes bothers me, too, if I think about it too much, so I wanted to concentrate for a few minutes on the positive, fun aspects of fictional crime.
Mystery writers must consider many things in their stories: plot, subplot, motive, setting, logic, alibi, clues, evidence, witnesses, and conclusion, with explanation. It must all make sense. Different types of mysteries include a variation of these elements: a cozy is a more peaceful mystery with lots of clues, less action, and less danger to the main character; a hard-boiled mystery includes a lot of action and rough realism; procedurals draw the reader’s attention to the rules of law enforcement; an amateur sleuth stumbles into the mystery by accident and helps the detective solve the crime.
All good mysteries contain secrets, riddles, and clues to solve the puzzle. What makes a mystery or a thriller spectacular, for me anyway, is the element of surprise, the perplexity of the plot, the probing questions that draw me deep into the story, and the fact it is fiction and not real life – a world I can visit, without participating in any of the crimes, except trying to catch the killer. After watching a couple of Agatha Christie episodes last week, I realized I mostly enjoy the red herring. It’s a mind game using clues to capture and evade, rather than coincidence. The villain matches wits with the detective, the reader matches wits with the author to crack the case. The reader wants to work out the author’s plot and the author tries to prevent it, until he/she is ready for the big reveal. We are testing each other.
Red herrings are the false clues that throw off the investigator, increase the challenge and make the mystery so much fun. Skillful mystery writers like Agathie Christie make the guilty appear innocent, turn the innocent into suspects and do so convincingly, sending us looking the wrong way. It’s like finding our way out of a maze and we learn from our mistakes, sharpening our skills each time, both as readers and writers.
Another spectacular part of the fictional mystery is the shock – finding out the guilty person is the one we trusted, realizing the flaws in our own judgement. This is another opportunity to learn about ourselves and improve our analytical skills.
Fictional mysteries bring readers together to discuss, imagine, compare, and to recommend. I hang out in various online mystery groups to share my thoughts and look for suggested great reads. Fictional mysteries become more and more sophisticated and the challenges get harder. Techno thrillers give us a glimpse into a possible future world and stretch our imaginations.
To finish, here are a couple of my favorite mystery reads from 2012:
by D.L. Johnstone: Excellent suspense told from several viewpoints.
The Dark Monk
by Oliver Potzsch: Well plotted with a maze of riddles and clues
Bleed For Me
by Michael Robotham: harrowing story of corruption, perversion, abuse of power, and murder.