On Writing

Watching the Detectives

Given that today marks the theatrical release of a new film version of one of my favorite Agatha Christie novels, Death On the Nile, I’ve written a post dedicated to mystery stories. They were, after all, one of my first literary crushes and, honestly, I think the suspense and dark subject matter of murder stories were what ultimately led me to fall so much in love with Edgar Allan Poe and tales of horror.

I suppose my interest in mystery and detective fiction grew out of playing the board game Clue as a kid. I had such fun trying to solve the crime—even more so when we got the Clue: Master Detective edition—and to this day, Clue is still one of the games that I will never turn down, even if it’s just me and my son playing together. In addition to playing a lot of Clue the game, I also saw Clue the movie and I watched more than a few episodes of Matlock with my mom, who was (still is) a big fan of crime and detective dramas.

I guess it’s no surprise that, as I got older, I gravitated toward mystery stories. In the seventh grade, I checked out every book by Agatha Christie that my junior high school library possessed. I also sought out her novels in second-hand bookshops. Death On the Nile and The Murder of Roger Akroyd (both featuring the detective Hercule Poirot) were among my all-time favorite mysteries. Aside from Christie, I read several other mystery authors and series throughout my teens and twenties including Poe’s mystery stories, Dorothy L. Sayers, some Sherlock Holmes, Mary Higgins Clark, quite a number of books from Harlequin Intrigue, and Dead Until Dark, the first book in Charlaine Harris’s Southern Vampire Series (the wonderful Beth Foxwell got the author to autograph a copy for me!). Getting to interview mystery writer Jan Burke for the journal Clues was definitely one of the highlights of my professional career (you can read that interview below if you’re so inclined). For that opportunity, I owe a debt of gratitude to the amazing Beth Foxwell.

My love of mystery and detective stories wasn’t confined to books, though. As I mentioned, I’ve watched my fair share of mystery shows and films like Charade. Even ones that weren’t strictly mysteries but had an element of the genre to them, such as The DaVinci Code or The Prestige captured my attention as did things like the “Who Pooped the Bed?” episode of It’s Always Sunny. I think the writers of that episode were just as crazy about mystery stories and “the big reveal” as I was. The ability to craft an intriguing, suspenseful plot while dropping strategic hints for your reader along the way is pure genius to me!

However, I once read a book where the author had left all these red herrings with regard to suspects and then the murderer turned out to be just some random, nameless guy instead of one of the actual characters. I was so angered by that ploy that I vowed I’d never read another book by that author. That’s because, for me, the best part of reading mystery/detective fiction or watching a mystery/crime show, was trying to solve the crime myself before the big reveal at the end. I would pay attention to the details the narrator or director gave, examining clues and pondering how each piece fit into the puzzle (or not). Sometimes I solved the crime; sometimes I didn’t. Even when I didn’t, it was fulfilling to me to go back and see how it had all unfolded, noticing what I’d missed.

I suppose that’s probably why I never really got into Sherlock Holmes. With a lot of those stories, I felt like Doyle didn’t give the reader enough information to solve the crime for themselves, that we were just supposed to bask in Holmes’s brilliance. Oddly enough, I did enjoy the TV shows House and Sherlock, both of which were based on the Sherlock Holmes character and stories. I think my interest in the former was solely due to Hugh Laurie’s portrayal of the main character. Similarly, I adored Cumberbatch as Sherlock (and Martin Freeman as Watson). Also, as dark as that show could be, it had some fabulous moments of hilarity (almost everything involving Irene Adler, for instance).

While I’ve gotten away from reading murder mysteries over the past decade and a half, the hubs and I recently watched the show Only Murders in the Building and it was so fantastic that it rekindled my love of mysteries. Who knows? Perhaps there’s some suspense in my own professional future. In the meantime, I will be eagerly awaiting Season 2 of Only Murders and looking to check Death On the Nile off of my watch list.

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