Friday, June 26, 2009

The Greatest Stories Ever Told

Why do I read mysteries?

Why not...why wouldn't you...what could be better?

Consider the so-called classics we were expected to read in high school and college. The great literature from the ancient world. Homer. Boewulf. Dickens. Shakespeare.

It's all crime fiction.

And in many cases it's fantasy or science fiction, as well. Supernatural suspense, adventure stories. Thrillers. Call it what you want in this sub-genre obsessed world we live in, but by comparison, the books called literary by the publishing industry today don't pass the test of time. I mean, where is the arc of redemption? The mystery? The plot?

Throw the Bible into the mix if you want even more adventure, blood and glory, heroes and villains, justice and judgment. Some would argue that religion deals with the greatest mystery of all.

Growing up I read anything I could reach on my parents' bookshelves, which included a bit of everything, from historical novels to adventure pulps to science fiction. And like Kelli, comic books were a big influence, especially The Amazing Spider-Man #121.

My reading list is still eclectic, but the books I always come back to are mysteries and thrillers, the type of books that first inspired me to write.

Maybe it's the moral compass in these stories. In a world where justice is rarely done and all too often it's the liars, cheats and bad guys getting their own reality TV show, elected office or corporate buyout, it is cathartic to read a story in which the villain gets his comeuppance. Mysteries have a way of putting ordinary people just like us into extraordinary circumstances that distill life's moral ambiguities into one fateful decision. Perhaps there's nothing politically correct or socially acceptable about pulling the trigger instead of calling the police, but it feels damn good when you do it in the pages of a mystery novel, because for that instant there is no moral ambiguity, only a compass pointing you forward to do the right thing no matter what.

Finally, I have a huge bias towards books that are fun to read. If you're asking me to invest in the first 100 pages of your book because after that it gets really interesting, you're asking too much. If you tell me I'll be glad I read it, but I won't be thrilled while I'm reading it, sell it to someone else. Entertain before you educate, suck me in and then take me for a ride. Help me escape, if only for a few hours. Ask me impossible questions that lead to improbable answers. Take me to another world.

I love mysteries. That's why I read them, and that's why I write them.


Kelli Stanley said...

Wonderful post, Tim!! Spidey 121 is a great issue ... and talk about moral compass, I've always loved "With great power comes great responsibility." :)

Face forward, true believers! ;)



Rebecca Cantrell said...

Thanks for the post, Tim!

Mysteries do show extraordinary moments in ordinary lives, certainly something Spiderman can relate to. And it's much safer watching those moments on the page than living them.