It’s no secret that my series featuring Washington DC detective Hannibal Jones is gaining popularity, and Echelon Press has a couple of short stories available featuring the character. What you might not guess is that I love to read a good mystery as much as I enjoy writing them. I am a lifelong fan of mysteries and crime fiction in general. And I’m not alone. Crime novels account for somewhere between 20 and 25 percent of the fiction sold around the world, at least what’s published in English. Some of the longest running publications feature mystery short stories, including Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Alfred Hitchcock Magazine and The Strand. If you’re not a fan, you may wonder why stories about murder and other evils that men do are so popular.
There’s no denying that this is the kind of story that people really read. While independent bookstores have almost disappeared, shops that specialize in mysteries are booming. The Mystery Bookstore Directory at Mysterynet.com lists nearly 70 stores all around the country.
This is a fairly recent phenomenon. 30 years ago, you didn’t see crime novels on the bestseller list. Today they regularly account for half of it.
But why do we love crime fiction so much?
At my book signings people tell me they love mysteries because they tell real stories. Mainstream fiction, if there is such a thing, often has no real conflict and no resolution. More and more self indulgence, with less and less plot, that’s literary fiction. But mysteries always give you a story, and the satisfying conclusion we don’t often get in real life. You can’t do this if you haven’t mastered the basic mechanics of storytelling – a beginning, middle and end, heroes and villains. There’s a definite form. Harlan Coben who writes the Myron Bolitar series says it’s like writing a sonata or haiku. But within that form you can do almost anything. Pick up anything by Baltimore detective writer Laura Lippman. She says that the best books are at war with themselves. The reader is dying to get to the end of the story, the reader is dying to make the book last forever. People read mysteries to find out what happens.
So what are YOUR reasons for loving mystery fiction? Let me know and I’ll mention them in my next blog post.