Why do I read them, why do I write them?
The second question is the most easily answered--I write what I like to read. I've been a fan of mysteries since my childhood, beginning with the inimitable titian-haired sleuth, Nancy Drew. Also the Hardy Boys, Trixie Belden, Cherry Ames, the Bobbsey Twins and, when I'd devoured those, I moved on to Agatha Christie.
But the turning point in my love affair with mysteries was my senior year of college. For my senior seminar, I chose The Mystery Novel. We read far and wide across the genre. I read Dame Agatha and Ross McDonald and Ellery Queen. I was introduced to the historical mystery with Ellis Peters and Anne Perry. I fell in love with Peter Wimsey and his Harriet in BUSMAN'S HONEYMOON. I met John le Carre through THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD. I felt the delicious creepiness of Henry James' TURN OF THE SCREW and threw myself into 19th-century Russia in Dostoyevsky's CRIME AND PUNISHMENT.
Last night, I dug out a paper I wrote for that class, most impressively titled "Moral Complexity in the Mystery Novel." I had hoped to find some profound line or paragraph, something I could use as a springboard for this post, but I'm afraid what I discovered is that, when I was in college, I wrote like I was in college. Not bad, you understand--I did get an A on the paper--but nothing terribly insightful or original. So I'm left to my own devices to explain why I read mysteries.
I read mysteries for the characters. The inherent tensions in a criminal investigation goes a long way to revealing characters--and character. I'm not a puzzle fan. I don't read for the intellectual element of trying to figure out what happened. I read to find out why and how it effects those involved. I read for motivation and resolution and judgment and mercy. I don't require happy endings--only satisfying ones. An ending in which loose ends have been collected and unanswered questions are rare.
An ending, in short, which only exists in fiction.