To me the mystery novel is a look into our flawed and contradictory human condition. By its very definition, the mystery novel and by extension the crime story, are about ordinary people pushed to their limit. Perpetrator and victim have their roles to play, but it’s often fascinating how is they came to be in those positions. What are the external and internal conditions that have driven your characters to this point that have brought them together or more accurately, pitted them against each other. That it’s obvious to have the thief want to rob the rich man, but once you’ve put the reader in the skin of both of these characters, they become more than just “types,” and perhaps your twist will be that the thief was once rich, and the well-off person obtained those riches through ill gotten means.
Further, Raymond Chandler noted in his classic essay on mystery writing, “The Simple Art of Murder,” the following, “The detective story for a variety of reasons can seldom be promoted. It is usually about murder and hence lacks the element of uplift. Murder, which is a frustration of the individual and hence a frustration of the race, may have, and in fact has, a good deal of sociological implication.”
Having a background as a community organizer and running social change non-profits, this work couldn’t help but inform the sort of crime and mystery stories I wanted to write. Justice is an elusive quality yet we as members of society strive for setting things right – be it the small scale of getting that pot hole your street to making sure you and the little old ladies on their way to the grocery store with the creaky carts, can walk down those streets unmolested. I suppose it is that we seek order of a sort, a comfort that when we walk out of our door, we can return to our abode after a hard day of honest labor.
But I would be remiss if I didn’t admit to having a fascination with the criminal, the ones who routinely take a step over the line in pursuit of their illegal goals. The caveat being the thinking criminal. Though a character study of a thug has its place as well. But from the comics Lex Luthor and Dr. Doom, to prose and Westlake’s professional thief Parker, E.W. Hornung’s (Arthur Conan Doyle’s brother-in-law) A. J. Raffles, a master batsman as it were, a member of the upper class who steals from the upper class, and Marcel Allain’s Fantômas, to TV's Walter "Heisenberg" White the machinations of these amoral sort resonate with me – vicariously of course.
Now you’ll have to excuse me, I have some matters to attend to. As Pinky was wont to ask, “What are we doing today, Brain.?”
“The same thing we do every day, Pinky. We try to take over the world!”