Mystery novels, starting from Doyle’s “Sherlock Holmes” and Christies “Hercule Poirot” and “Miss Marple”, have been a popular form. Through the ages, they have morphed and transformed, yet remain popular as ever. So when David Gordon wrote why mystery novels are the perfect literary form, we were inspired to do the same! Here is our list of reasons as we explore how mystery novels are the perfect literary form.

Fulfilling Resolution

The ideal structure of a mystery or detective plot is a steady linear graph. Thus, we begin at the rock bottom, where a gruesome crime takes place and we have no clues. Confusion runs amok. But gradually, one by one, things come to light and we begin to gain a perspective of the situation. Through these clues, a revelation, reversal or epiphany at the end, a stunning answer to all questions emerges. Thus, the end leaves us on an emotional high. We are thus satisfied with the turn of events, and the nagging feeling of not knowing the solution to the mystery leaves. This makes the book all the more satisfying.

How Mystery Novels Are The Perfect Literary Form
How Mystery Novels Are The Perfect Literary Form

Beauty of Form

The crime writer David Gordon believes that the mystery novel contains an inherent beauty of form, much like the sonnet. Thus, he says, even though modern poets cannot match up to Shakespeare’s sonnets, they nevertheless are inspired by it. And so, even if modern crime writers may not be able to imitate Holmes or Poirot, they take inspiration from them. In the process, they give the genre a modern twist, which preserves the beauty of form but increases ingenuity and imagination.

Social Usefulness

Many writers of mysteries and crime novels use the apparently socially deviant form to talk about social issues. Perhaps the crime itself results from a pervasive social issue. Or perhaps the detective’s interactions with people in search of clues reveals a socially destructive mindset. In either case, the mystery is the perfect form to lay bare social evils and show their fallacy. If the resolution includes the ridding of a social evil, it also stays in memory.

Ingenuity of plot

No one can disagree with the fact that mystery novels require absolute ingenuity of plot. While the reader pieces together clues like a puzzle, the author must know all along how the complete puzzle looks. This requires not only intelligence and wit but also foresight, imagination and creativity. Since the mystery novel is a perfect blend of these authorial qualities, it is a masterful literary form – that requires intellect as much as it does creativity.

How Mystery Novels Are The Perfect Literary Form
How Mystery Novels Are The Perfect Literary Form

Opportunity to explore human psyche

The mystery novel also lends itself to the creation of perfect characters – perfect not in the sense of flawless but in the sense of layered, complex and true to human nature. Mysteries rely upon characters and their motives. So if a writer is able to fashion motives, backstories and character traits with craftiness, then the mystery will undoubtedly work. But this requires a deep dive into human psyche and understanding of the human nature and condition.

Opportunity to explore society

As much as mystery novels allow writers to delve into the complex psychologies of their characters, they also allow writers to understand society. Crimes are so universal that they can pervade any section of society. Thus crimes can become instruments to bring to the forefront various sections of society. Criminals as well as the characters that lead to them could belong to any class, creed, race, caste, religion or profession.

Objective point of view

In traditional detective stories, the detective is an outsider who looks at the society and its elements from afar, giving us a macro-perspective. Thus, in most cases, the detective is an objective and detached entity. This allows readers to get a dual perspective on the mystery. Firstly, we have that of commoners and others who act as clues to the mystery, which is a perspective embedded in the story. And we also get an objective perspective from the point of view of the detective. This adds a layer to the store and makes it interesting.

How Mystery Novels Are The Perfect Literary Form
How Mystery Novels Are The Perfect Literary Form

Malleability of form

Even though the skeleton of the mystery novel remains the same, it is surprisingly amenable to change. Thus, crime books can be non-linear, multiple perspective based or even without the presence of a detective. Similarly, they can take place anywhere in the world – from the Italian mafia and Bombay gangster underbelly to the elite society of Manhattan and scenic Latin America. Through distortions of time and space, the old form can get a new vibe, even as it retains the flavour of the original.

Universal Appeal

Finally, the mystery is the perfect literary form because it has universal appeal. No matter who reads it, where and when they read it, the mystery novel is always exhilarating and satisfying. Because it satisfies our primal instinct of curiosity and our desire for the “good guy” to win at the end, it has universal appeal.

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