Nothing in my life, outside of the people that I love, gives me more pleasure, more comfort and more joy than reading. And there is no genre I enjoy more than a murder mystery.
There’s something very reassuring to me about a mystery novel. Perhaps it’s the underlying orderly structure—even in a fast-paced, hit-you-from-all sides thriller. After all, every mystery, from the coziest of cozies to the darkest hardboiled novel is, at its core, about the restoration of order.
Whether the mystery takes place in a quiet English village or on the mean streets of Los Angeles, the story moves from the disruption of the natural order of things to the eventual return to normalcy. The killer is unmasked, punishment is meted out, and the detective, amateur or professional, completes her mission. When the realities of my own life are far messier, I find it very nice—and sometimes necessary—to step into another world for a while.
The rhythms of a mystery series are especially good at drawing me in because, in addition to the puzzle and suspense of a stand-alone like Gone Girl, there’s the added dimension of a cast of characters I’ve come to know. In the most satisfying series, those characters continue to grow and to surprise me. I’m not fussy about subgenres. I like the gritty realism and imperfect hero of Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch series, but I’m just as fond of the lovely writing and more measured pace of Louise Penney’s Inspector Gamache books.
I start a new book in a favorite mystery series with the same anticipation I feel about visiting a good friend I haven’t seen in a while. When I’m reading, I leave my own world and the people in it far behind—even though those people may be as close as a couch cushion away. Quite often when I need it most, I get caught up enough in their fictional problems to forget about my own. A meme that’s been circulating on the Web sums it up pretty well: I don’t want my favorite fictional characters to be real, I want to be in their fictional world with them.
I discovered that as a writer, I experience that longing even more than I do as a reader. When I finish writing another installment in the Leah Nash mystery series, I miss my characters and the small town of Himmel, Wisconsin where they live. I wonder what they’re doing while I’m away. In a way, I feel left out of things, as though their lives are going on without me.
Silly? Yes, of course it is. And yet I can’t help it. I’m not so far gone that I don’t realize my characters aren’t real people. And the small town in Wisconsin where they live is definitely not the small town where I live. For one thing, the per capita murder rate is far too high. But I think that a mystery series, mine or anyone else’s, is reality one-step removed. It’s the world as we’d like it to be, where tragic events may happen, and innocent people may suffer, but in the end, there is justice, and sometimes mercy, for all.
For me, a well-ordered mystery is very satisfying, and I relish the time I spend in its world. And I find there are some places I return to visit quite often. If you’re a reader (and I’m assuming if you’re reading this you must be) you’ll know what I mean. Perhaps we’ll run into each other in Santa Teresa, or Northumberland or Three Pines sometime–or maybe even in Himmel, Wisconsin. Until then, happy reading.
Note: This first appeared as a guest post on Lori’s Reading Corner, part of a virtual book tour I did recently.