The Mystery of Murder

I don’t know what is says about me but I’m hooked to murder mysteries. There are several aspects of the plot I enjoy. Especially when the story is set in a sleepy village or a picturesque holiday locale. I like the way various characters with their respective traits and peeves are introduced to us. More often than not there’s a quirky heiress accompanied by a simple assistant who personifies the saying ‘still waters run deep.’ There’s usually a married couple with complicated undercurrents. They have moved to a quiet street or are on vacation to forget a suspicious past. I particularly like the exuberant about- to- be amateur detective, either beginning a new life or on a well-earned holiday. This character displays a shocking lack of self-preservation and is happy to risk life and limb for the sake of solving a crime that involves a dead stranger with dangerous enemies. Moreover, despite being shunned by the policemen and being threatened by an invisible stalker, they continue to solve a convoluted plot and return to their humdrum routine without giving their latent talent further thought. We love to see this character again in sequels, pursuing their normal life until someone drops dead again in their midst. They don’t need counselling for the trauma. They just roll up their sleeves and work through a series of grotesque murders to emerge victorious and chirpy. We wait for the next time when an ominous grandfather clock, a hooting owl and a stormy wind bear witness to the murder of a new victim that only this genius can solve.

I’ve also become adept at discovering hints dropped by bystanders. They are usually insipid details that no one would notice yet the reader or the viewer knows that they will mean something in the end. They cannot quite connect the dots because frankly they are impossible to connect. Yet, we eagerly wait to slap our heads in the climax. Oh yes, the postman saw a lady in an overcoat leave the scene of the crime but it was a man in a woman’s overcoat! It was a foggy night and the postman needed new spectacles. He had missed his appointment with the ophthalmologist because his wife had a fall. Some such clue escapes us to our delight. Then yet another murder mystery staple enters the scene-the over clever detective. He or she loves the job but hates rules. Even so their intuition for solving crimes is a calling they can’t ignore. You see, only a shrewd detective can see through the evil mastermind. The maze-like plot will be unraveled by the detective who employs out of the box procedures and blatantly flouts the law in the last act. The perpetrator, however, paradoxically portrays a foolish side by confessing in the concluding scene. We assume that the villain secretly suffered from a need to have an emotional outburst that had until then been bottled up. Or else, he or she tries to make an escape after attempting one last criminal act till they are wrestled to the ground.

Interestingly, there’s always a stupefied neighbour whose sole purpose was to look out of the peep hole but who never contributes anything worthwhile to solve the puzzle aside from noting the time they heard a gunshot but mistook it for a burst tire or similar. Then the dim-witted policeman who interrogates the wrong suspect. Lastly, the story is held together by decoys, possible murderers who are too obvious to be the real culprit but who serve to stretch the storyline. Moreover, it’s usually a tyrant who is murdered sending a subliminal message that the victim was hate worthy and hence had it coming to him or her. More often than not there’s a disgruntled member of the staff, a son or daughter in debt, a wife or husband who had been cheated on and so on and so forth. It is in murder mysteries that the prime suspect is the spouse. Although I write without statistical knowledge, I doubt if it is true despite the occasional demonic rage one feels against one’s spouse.

Yet, this genre is almost unchallenged in its capacity to keep the reader or viewer engrossed. Zig-zag lines around dead bodies, forensic evidence left under fingernails, a cigarette butt left at the scene of the crime; we can see these over and over again and not tire of the plots. Lurking beneath this clinical approach to death is a sea of emotions we all feel. The dual emotions of hate and love we harbour towards someone we spend years with, the humiliation felt by a less capable family member that simmers like a latent volcano, sibling rivalry, greed and jealousy. Murder mysteries make us aware of the dangerous precipice that lies between primal instinct and civility. We are intrigued by the violence, the fear, the loathing; emotions that most of us have successfully quelled over time. Now we can view the worst of human nature with a bowl of popcorn or while sipping a hot beverage and feel grateful that we don’t go over the edge. Murder mysteries are the tidal wave, the shark in the waters, the sinking ship, the apocalypse, the just- imagine- if stories that we love to be horrified by. We are comforted by the knowledge that this doesn’t ‘really’ happen in everyday life. The mystery writer knows that we have to get a glimpse of the macabre in order to appreciate the ordinary.

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